Friedrich Ludwig was born to a farming family in the southern Black Forest. When he was eight, his parents sent him to distant relatives on a farm where he had to work hard to earn his keep. In their loft he found old books, prints and copper engravings, which he copied. Ludwig’s father recognised his son’s talent, but financial need compelled the boy to do an apprenticeship as a painter in Schopfheim and to work as a house painter. He worked as a painter/decorator in Zurich from 1913 to 1919, and in 1920 he joined a group of like-minded artists in Badenweiler that included Annette Kolb and Julius Meier-Graefe. From 1922 to 1926, Ludwig studied at the Städel Institute in Frankfurt am Main, then at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1934, his first official exhibition at the Munich Kunstverein was declared “un-German”. Ludwig was banned from exhibiting. Together with his friend Carl Hofer, Ludwig worked hurriedly overnight to save as many of his paintings as he could, hiding them in Hofer’s attic.
After an exhibition at the Galerie Neupert in Zurich in 1935, Ludwig was offered the opportunity to stay in Switzerland without any financial implications, but turned it down. Instead, from 1937 onwards, he lived in Düsseldorf, where he had no opportunity to exhibit his paintings. Ludwig shut himself off more and more, feeling compelled to withdraw into isolation, and he became more and more of an outsider. He travelled to Italy and Paris, then back to Wieslet, and settled in Berchtesgaden in 1940. During the Second World War, Ludwig was employed by the border authorities on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance in 1944. At a 1956 exhibition in Munich that featured works by the Blauer Reiter group, two works by Ludwig were exhibited. But he still did not achieve a real breakthrough. The deprivations he endured in his life had an impact on his mental state, and at times he was confused and absent-minded. In 1968, he was placed in the Gabersee psychiatric clinic.