Carl Timoleon von Neff was born at Püssi manor in Lüganuse parish, Virumaa, Estonia on October 2, 1804 as a son of governess Felicite Neff. In 1815-1818 he attended the Rakvere County School. At that time he often stayed at Küti manor where a famous landscape painter Karl Ferdinand von Kügelgen visited his father-in-law. It is believed that it was Kügelgen from whom Neff acquired his first knowlegde of art. In 1824 Neff entered the Dresden Academy of Arts where he took the scheduled three-year course in eight months. This indicates a rare talent and a sufficient preparation. In 1827 Neff moved to St Petersburg where he became a court painter of the Czar in 1831. In 1838 he married Louise Auguste Dorothea von Kaulbars from Mõdriku, Virumaa. In 1839 he became an academician and in 1846 a first-class honorary member of the Florerence Academy of Arts which was accompanied by the right to display his self-portrait in the world-famous Uffizi Gallery. In 1849 Neff was nominated a professor of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. In 1860 he bought the bankrupt Muuga manor and some years later he began to build a stone manor house at Muuga, following the example of Italian early Renaissance palazzos. In 1864 Neff was appointed a conservator of the Hermitage. Thanks to his work he merited nobility from the Czar as well as the honours Stanislav Order in 1864, Anna Order in 1867 and Vladimir Star in 1874. The painter died in St Petersburg on December 24, 1876 and was buried in the Simuna churchyard in Virumaa, Estonia.
The major part of the painter´s works is made up by religious monumental paintings that can be seen in Moscow, St Petersburg, London, Nice, Germany, etc. He has also painted plenty of portraits and made copies of Raffael, Rubens, van Dyck and other Renaissance and Baroque painters mainly. Besides there are a great number of pictures about the everyday life of Italian and Estonian peasants. The best-known paintings of Estonian subject matter are Reapers of Rye, Estonian Woman with a Child, Surprise and Estonian Maid Feeding Hens. The most appreciated works by Neff are Bather and Maid in Grotto which are at the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Neff was also a passionate art collector himself. Muuga manor house with its furnishings did resemble an art museum. Here there were 9 marbles and 12 bronze sculptures, 11 original paintings by Neff, 24 copies and a number of other articles of virtu. By now most of them are in the possession of the Estonian Art Museum.