Tranquillo Cremona showed a strong aptitude for painting from a very young age, so much so that at just 11 years old he was enrolled in the civic painting school of Pavia directed by Giacomo Trecourt. Here he had the opportunity to meet Giovanni Carnovali il Piccio, a friend of Trecourt, and had Federico Faruffini as a fellow student. In 1852 he moved to Venice, where in the same year he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1859 Cremona moved to Milan, where he exhibited two paintings at the annual exhibition of the Brera Academy, as a student of the Venice Academy. In Milan he enrolled at the Brera Academy and began to frequent that group of "scapigliati" artists, writers and musicians who, in addition to the painter Daniele Ranzoni and the sculptor Giuseppe Grandi, included, among others, the writers Emilio Praga, Giuseppe Rovani , Carlo Righetti and the musician Arrigo Boito.
However, only with Il Bacio of 1870 (Rome, National Gallery of Modern Art) did Cremona arrive at that new manner which characterized his mature works: the elimination of the clear outlines of the figures and the disintegration of the forms, to the point of making them almost transparent, immersed in a twilight light. The closeness of Daniele Ranzoni contributed to the achievement of the new results. It is difficult to establish which of the two artists was the first to create those trembling forms which constitute the most typical expression of la Scapigliatura in painting.
Cremona died in 1878, in Milan, at age 41. His early death was the result of poisoning by color pigments.