Wolf was the son of a farmer, and was born at Münstermaifeld, on the river Moselle, in the Eifel region. In his boyhood he was an assiduous student of bird and animal life, and showed a remarkable capacity as a draughtsman of natural history subjects.
At the age of sixteen he went to Koblenz to work for a firm of lithographers, and then in 1840 he moved to Frankfurt. Here he provided the illustrations for Eduard Rüppell's Birds of Northeast Africa.
He next went to Darmstadt where he worked for the director of the natural history museum, Johann Jakob Kaup. His talent was then recognized by Hermann Schlegel of the Natural History Museum, Leiden, who gave him employment as an illustrator.
In 1848 he moved to London, where he worked at the British Museum illustrating George Robert Gray's Genera of Birds. At the Royal Academy he met Sir Edwin Landseer, and he contributed to "Birds of Asia".
John Gould admired Wolf and would have liked him on his staff, but Wolf only contributed illustrations on a freelance basis.
He made many drawings for the Zoological Society of London, and a very large number of illustrations for books on natural history and on travel in various countries; but he also won a considerable success as a painter.
Wolf's main achievement is that he established wildlife art as a genre. He had the "knack" of capturing moments of suspended action, but combined this with sound physiological knowledge.
He was disappointed with some of the lithographs of his originals because he felt that they were not very lifelike and overcoloured.
He died in London, surrounded by his pet birds.
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.