Jane Peterson was born in Elgin, Illinois and studied art there briefly before leaving for New York to attend the Pratt Institute. This relatively new art school was designed to place women in teaching jobs or the decorative arts, and Peterson landed a teaching position immediately upon graduating in 1901. In 1907, Peterson joined her former teacher Henry B. Snell and his wife in Europe for the summer. This first trip abroad proved to be life-changing for the young artist. Peterson was a bold risk-taker, and she subsequently quit her job and took out a loan, so that she could stay in Europe and continue her artistic studies, first in London and then Paris. There, Peterson received her first solo exhibition at the Société des Artistes Francais,. In the summer of 1908, Peterson traveled to Venice where she met the great French Impressionist, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, who had a profound influence on her developing style. Under his guidance, her work took on a new brilliance of color and spontaneity of execution.
Peterson returned to the United States in 1909, however, she continued to travel extensively, often by herself, during the 1910s and 1920s. As a result of this independence, her subjects are more international, sophisticated, and socially minded than the work of many other women artists of the era, who stayed closer to home. Moreover, she was influenced by the myriad artistic movements that she was exposed to during her travels, including Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, and Fauvism, and she blended these influences together into her own bold and individual style.
In 1925, Peterson’s career reached a pinnacle as she enjoyed critical and financial success with a show of paintings made during a six-month residency in Turkey. However, that same year, Peterson married M. Bernard Philipp, who insisted that she assume the domestic responsibility of the household. Peterson turned to flower painting as an alternative; after her husband’s death in 1929, she resumed her travels but rarely exhibited again.