Joseph Wopfner was born at Schwaz in Tyrol in 1843. Following an apprenticeship at his fathers bakery, Wopfner decided to study panting in Munich. He was enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1864 to 1872, Carl von Piloty and Eduard Schleich the Elder were among his teachers. While attending the academy he met Wilhelm Leibl, who would become a close friend. After he had completed his studies Joseph Wopfner opened his own studio in Munich.
Inspired by his teacher Eduard Schleich the Elder, Joseph Wopfner received important impulses for plein-air painting. In 1869 he met Gustave Courbet who visited Munich on occasion of his participation in the Glaspalast exhibition. Works by Camille Corot and other members of the School of Barbizon provided orientation. Joseph Wopfner preferably spent the summer months on Fraueninsel in Chiemsee where he came in contact with the local painter colony, making paintings of the landscape around the lake. In 1873 Joseph Wopfner was among the founding members of the artist group Allotria in Munich. Wopfner showed the two works Kartoffelernte and Motiv am Chiemsee at the groups first annual exhibition.
Views of Chiemsee, as well as his calm and atmospheric landscapes are characteristic of Joseph Wopfners entire artistic oeuvre. The Chiemgau region offered the painter an inexhaustible source of motifs, subjects are often just slightly altered and popular motifs were executed repeatedly.
The numerous accolades the painter received in his lifetime are documents of Joseph Wopfners recognition among other artists and collectors. In 1885 he became honorary citizen of his Austrian birthplace Schwaz, in 1886 the community Frauenchiemsee awarded him with the same honor. A year later the State of Bavaria decorated him with the Order of Saint Michael. In 1896 the Academy of Fine Arts appointed him honorary member, additionally, he was appointed to a post as professor in 1888. Wopfner won the gold medal at the Munich Glaspalast exhibition in 1890. He became a Bavarian citizen in 1914. Joseph Wopfner died in Munich in 1927.