William Couper was born in Norfolk, Virginia, where his father owned a profitable stoneworks. As a boy, William played in the marble lots watching artisans make statues. He decided to become a sculptor and trained in New York City, Munich, and in Florence, where he made portraits and idealized busts. He married and started a family in Italy, but decided to move back to America, where he built a large home in New Jersey and shared a studio in New York City with the sculptor Thomas Ball. Couper retired from sculpting in 1913 and painted seascapes in oil and watercolors until his death.