Fritz Thaulow originally wanted to become a marine painter. He studied at the art academy in Copenhagen as well as with the Danish marine specialist C. F. Sorensen. He then went to Paris where he spent much of the period from 1875 - 1879. His marine oil paintings and coastal paintings were only moderately successful, but he acquired a fair knowledge of contemporary French Realist art and felt that Norwegian artists should learn from it.
Thaulow was essentially a painter working within the framework of Realism, to which he made an original contribution. He was a master of portraying the interaction of light and water and many of his oil paintings are river and lake scenes. During the 1890s he used oil and pastel to create a more poetic and symbolic atmosphere in line with the prevailing artistic mood of the period and he could be compared in this respect with such painters as Whistler. He was a friend of Claude Oscar Monet and an important link between Norwegian and French art.
Fritz Thaulow died in 1906 and the contents of his studio were auctioned in Paris in 1907.