He was born to Jewish parents, Isacco e Giuditta Baquis, in Livorno. He trained at the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence under Enrico Pollastrini. Between 1878 and 1879 he worked under Domenico Morelli in Naples.
He then traveled to Paris where he met Léon Bonnat, and signed a contract with the Goupil & Cie, he was able to supplement his income as a portrait painter with illustrations for magazines. He frequented the circles of Giuseppe De Nittis. Between 1881 and 1886, he frequently exhibited at the Salon.
He returned to Italy in 1886, putatively to join the army, and settled in Florence. He converted to Catholicism and married a widow, Emma Ciabatti. In Florence, he made friends in the intellectual circles, and made portraits of Silvestro Lega, Giosue Carducci, and Pietro Mascagni.