The son of a humble bricklayer Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was one of the greatest sculptors of the nineteenth century during the Second Empire under Napoleon III. Initially trained under the Romantic sculptor Francois Rude at the Ėcole des Beaux-Arts, Carpeaux influenced an entire generation of sculptors to come including his pupil Rodin with his use of deep shadow. Ironically, Rodin and Carpeaux had their works done in large editions during their lifetime and afterwards. This practice led to their being very well recognized by the public, yet at the same time, created confusion as to when works were cast, in what numbers, and at what date.
Carpeaux was initially influenced by such masters of Renaissance sculpture as Michelangelo during his time spent in Italy after having won the Prix de Rome in 1854. However, Carpeaux began to produce works that represented a shift toward a freer and more naturalistic style of sculpting in contrast to the calm classical approach espoused by the Académie. There is a previously unseen freedom and an immediacy in his creations such as Portrait de Madame Defly that broke with the more traditional approach to historical subjects and portraiture. His sculptures are viewed as a reaction to the conventional classical style imposed by the French Academy. This break with the prevailing and accepted views of the time laid the foundation for his later reputation as the leading sculptor of the day as well as the favored portrait sculptor of Napoleon III and the court. Such a sensitive portrait as Portrait de Madame Defly combines a previously unseen anatomical and psychological realism. His additional use of deep shadowing would greatly influence a succeeding generation of sculptors.