Self-portrait with Skeleton
, 1896, oil on canvas, 66 x 86 cm, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus
Corinth was born Franz Heinrich Louis on 21 July 1858 in Tapiau, in Prussia. The son of a tanner, he displayed a talent for drawing as a child. In 1876 he went to study painting in the academy of Königsberg. Initially intending to become a history painter, he was dissuaded from this course by his chief instructor at the academy, the genre painter Otto Günther. In 1880 he traveled to Munich, which rivaled Paris as the avant-garde art center in Europe at the time. There he studied briefly with Franz von Defregger before gaining admittance to the Academy of Fine Arts Munich, where he studied under Ludwig von Löfftz. The realism of Corinth's early works was encouraged by Löfftz's teaching, which emphasized careful observation of colors and values. Other important influences were Courbet and the Barbizon school, through their interpretation by the Munich artists Wilhelm Leibl and Wilhelm Trübner.
Except for an interruption for military service in 1882–83, Corinth studied with Löfftz until 1884. He then traveled to Antwerp, where he greatly admired the paintings of Rubens, and then in October 1884 to Paris where he studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury at the Académie Julian. He concentrated especially on improving his drawing skills, and made the female nude his frequent subject. He was disappointed, however, in his repeated failure to win a medal at the Salon, and returned to Königsberg in 1888 when he adopted the name "Lovis Corinth".