Fred Wagner, born Frederick R. Wagner was one of the earliest of the Pennsylvania impressionists. He was born in Port Kennedy, Pennsylvania, grew up in Norristown, and spent most of his life in Philadelphia painting its harbors, bridges, parks, train stations and ports.
Wagner studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts beginning in 1878. Before he graduated, Wagner was chosen to teach alongside Eakins as Demonstrator of Anatomy starting in 1882.
Wagner's works were in the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy first in 1882 and consistently every year from 1906 to 1940, and in the biennial exhibitions of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., between 1907 and 1935. He was awarded the Pennsylvania Academy's fellowship prize in 1914, and in 1922 he won an honorable mention at the international exhibition of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.
Wagner left the Academy in 1886 to take a tour of western towns and to paint portraits.
Upon his return to Philadelphia, he worked as an illustrator for the Philadelphia Press until 1902. He was later asked to teach at PAFA's Chester Springs School, a position he held for seven years.