Joseph Raphael, a California native, studied at the California School of Design.
He saved money during the 1890s, first as a newspaper illustrator and later as a sign painter, to continue his artistic studies overseas. He spent most of his life aboard, living 36 years in Paris and the Netherlands.
Keeping strong ties to San Francisco, he exhibited his paintings regularly in local shows and through Albert Bender, a patron of early works of Ansel Adams and Diego Rivera. Before World War II, he returned to San Francisco and maintained a studio on 345 Sutter Street until his death on December 11, 1950.