Wilhelm (whose full name was Heinrich Wilhelm) Trübner was born in Heidelberg on February 3, 1851. His father was a goldsmith and future town councilor. After grammar school Wilhelm Trübner was supposed to take over his father's workshop, but through the support and intervention of the painter Anselm Feuerbach, the young Wilhelm Trübner began to study painting at the Karlsruhe art school in 1867.
On the advice of his future teacher Wilhelm von Diez, Trübner went to Munich in 1869, where he temporarily became a student of Alexander Wagner in the academy class. In 1870 Trübner finally moved to Munich and attended von Diez's academy class, where he was to receive instructions on Dutch chiaroscuro painting. During that time Trübner also produced his first portraits. In summer 1871 Trübner left the academy again, after he had met the painter Wilhelm Leibl on a study trip to lake Starnberger See, where he had gone with friends to join the so-called "Leiblkreis".
Until 1876 Wilhelm Trübner experienced the heyday of his artwork, he painted numerous portraits, landscapes and interiors, undertook study trips to Italy and Belgium and sold his first pieces.
In 1876 Trübner's success was interrupted. The annual exhibition at the Munich "Glaspalast" turned down his "Bildnis von Schuch", Trübner felt misunderstood by critics and audiences alike. When the "Leiblkreis" also dissolved at the end of the year, Wilhelm Trübner tried to refocus. He turned to history paintings, but success failed to materialize.
Gradual success and recognition only set in during the following years, not least thanks to his increasing contacts with the Munich art scene and the smart publicity surrounding the patron of the Grand Duke of Baden. Wilhelm Trübner received his first awards in 1889 at a Munich art exhibition and in 1893 at a Chicago exhibition.
His contacts with Corinth, Slevogt and Liebermann lead Trübner to join the "Munich Secession" in 1892, which he left a year later to become a member of the "Freie Vereinigung München".
In 1896 Wilhelm Trübner started teaching at the "Städelsche Kunstinstitut" in Frankfurt/Main and turned his back on Munich for good. In 1898 he became a professor. In 1903 Trübner began to work at the Karlsruhe art academy, the head of which he became in 1904 and 1910. In 1900, at the age of 49, he married his student Alice Auerbach, who gave birth to their son Jörg in 1902. During that time, Trübner wrote treatise on art theory, which reflect his renunciation of subject-linked anecdotal history painting for more shape and color. This understanding of art was mainly reflected in his landscapes and portraits of his third phase. In March 1916 his wife Alice died in Berlin. Wilhelm Trübner suspected the actress Durieux of having murdered her, but the case was dropped.
Wilhelm Trübner died from a heart condition on December 21, 1917 in Karlsruhe.