Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Joseph Rodefer DeCamp studied briefly at the McMicken School of Design before traveling abroad and enrolling at the Royal Academy in Munich in 1878. He quickly became part of the close-knit circle of American students working under Frank Duveneck in the Bavarian village of Polling and traveled with Duveneck to Venice and Florence to study old master paintings. DeCamp returned to the Ohio area in 1883 and took teaching positions at art academies in Cleveland, but by 1884, he had settled in Boston where he became an influential teacher, beginning at Wellesley College from 1884 to 1886. He also taught at the School of Drawing and Painting at the Museum of Fine Arts from 1885 to 1889, the Cowles School of Art beginning around 1890 and the Massachusetts Normal Art School from 1903 to 1923.
In 1897, DeCamp became one of the founding members of the Impressionist group, the Ten American Painters, along with Boston friends Frank W. Benson and Edmund C. Tarbell. His career was on the ascendancy through widespread exhibitions of his figural work and landscapes when disaster struck in 1904 and his studio in the Harcourt Building burned down. Starting from scratch, he offered to paint fellow St. Botolph Club members at a reduced rate, thus establishing himself as one of Boston’s foremost portrait artists. For the next fifteen years, DeCamp went on to capture the likenesses of many notable sitters, including Benjamin Ames Kimball (1905), Charles Henry Taylor (1913), his teacher Frank Duveneck (1911-12) and President Theodore Roosevelt (1908).