Karl Hagemeister was born at Werder on the Havel on 12 March 1848. On the advice of Ferdinand Bellermann, Karl Hagemeister began to train as an artist in 1871 under Friedrich Preller the Elder in Weimar, with whom he also went on trips to study art that took him as far afield as the Island of Ruegen and Lake Hintersee near Berchtesgaden.
In summer 1973 Hagemeister met Carl Schuch at Lake Hintersee and that same year they travelled to Salzburg, Vienna, Dresden and Brussels. Another trip to study art took Hagemeister and Schuch to Holland and Brussels together with the painter Wilhelm Trübner in 1874 and to Italy in 1876. Shortly afterwards Hagemeister returned to Brandenburg to settle at Ferch on Lake Schwielow, where he painted with Schuch in 1878 and 1880-81.
Karl Hagemeister's early work consisted primarily in still lifes and hunting scenes, with figurative representations added for a time but but Hagemeister abandoned the latter almost entirely after 1900. From 1878 Hagemeister showed work at the Berlin Academy exhibitions as well as the Munich Glass Palace and, from 1899, with the Berlin Secession.
A stay in Paris and a preoccupation with the French Impressionists, notably Eduard Manet, inspired Hagemeister to lighten his palette. From 1907 Hagemeister also enlarged his thematic repertoire to include marine pieces, primarily studies of waves, and tended increasingly to focus on details in his Brandenburg motifs as well. The first large-scale retrospective of Karl Hagemeister's work was mounted by Heinemann in Munich in 1912 and the exhibition moved to Schulte in Berlin and the Hamburg Kunstverein in early spring 1913.
Karl Hagemeister had achieved his breakthrough, becoming a regular member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. With Max Liebermann he co-founded the "Berlin Secession" and maintained his ties with his Berlin colleagues.
Karl Hagemeister, whose work is owned by major German museums, died in his native Werder on 6 August 1933.