He was born in Dwingeloo and spent some time in Switzerland in his youth due to weak lungs, where he learned German. He became the first academically schooled art historian of the Netherlands, receiving his training in Leipzig, which is why much of his work was published in German, most notably his lengthy 10-part Beschreibendes kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten Holländischen Mahler des XVII. Jahrhunderts (1907-1928), also known as a rewrite of John Smith's Catalogue raisonné (9 volumes 1829-1842, London). He became an expert who had many differences of opinion with Abraham Bredius and other art collectors, while serving various institutions to do with the arts of the Netherlands, including the Frans Hals Museum, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, and the RKD.
In 1896 he became director of the Rijksprentenkabinet in Amsterdam, but he quit after two years because of a difference of opinion with his predecessor there. He then settled in the Hague as an independent art critic and began work on an eight-part book on Rembrandt with Wilhelm von Bode. His catalog of his extensive collection of Rembrandt drawings in German was published by the Teylers Tweede Genootschap in their Verhandelingen of 1906. In 1910 he published a catalog of paintings by Frans Hals. From 1912 to 1930 he was a member of Teylers Tweede Genootschap. From 1916 onwards he was a member of the Rijksmonument commission in the Netherlands. He wrote over 70 biographies of Dutch painters for the kunstenaarslexikon of Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker.
^A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth century Based on the work of John Smith, Volume III (Frans Hals and Adriaen & Isaac van Ostade), by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, with the assistance of Kurt Freise and Dr. Kurt Erasmus, translated by Edward G. Hawke, MacMillian & Co., London, 1910
^Teyler 1778-1978:studies en bijdragen over Teylers Stichting naar aanleiding van het tweede eeuwfeest, by J. H. van Borssum Buisman, H. Enno van Gelder, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst , Schuyt, 1978, ISBN 90-6097-091-8