Franz von Defregger was born the second son of the wealthy farmer Michael Defregger at the Ederhof at Stronach in Tyrol in 1835. After his father's death, he sold the family's farm and went to Innsbruck, where he began a carver-apprenticeship under Michael Stolz. Stolz soon recognised his artistic talent and organised a meeting with Karl Theodor von Piloty. On the painter's suggestion Defregger attended the preparatory class at the "Kunstgewerbeschule" in Munich under Hermann Dyck and switched to Hermann Anschütz' painter's class at the "Akademie der Bildenden Künste" in autumn 1861.
A following study trip led him for a longer period to Paris in 1863. There he got acquainted with the school of Barbizon, which influenced him especially in his nature pieces. After returning from Paris, he stayed in Munich and Eastern Tyrol, where mainly portraits of relatives and friends were executed.
In 1867 he painted the study "Der verwundete Jäger", which helped him to be accepted as von Piloty's pupil. Franz Defregger mainly painted scenes from the every-day-life of Tyrolean farmlife and genre-like depictions of the nearest history, which stood in an emphatic contrast to von Piloty's extensively staged society-paintings. Defregger soon became one of the most popular genre-painters of the "Munich School" and had an academic influence. In 1878 the artist was appointed professor for history painting at the composing class of the academy in Munich, where he taught until 1910.
His prestigious villa in the Königinstraße in Munich, which was built in 1880 soon became one of society's meeting points. In the following years Defregger received numerous honours and awards, which culminated in the bestowal of the "Bavarian Crown Order", combined with a title of nobility, in 1883. Beside the academic genre and history painting, which was regularly shown at exhibitions, the painter painted during the 1890s several freer portraits, landscapes and images from his private life. Franz von Defregger was not able to associate himself with "Modern Art", which established new guidelines in art, but in the shadow of his painting intimate sketches and studies came into existence, which proved in an impressing way his colouristic talent in landscape painting and his power of observation in portrait arts.
Franz von Defregger died in Munich in 1921.