Winner of the coveted Prix de Rome in 1861, Lefebvre fulfilled his early promise both as a painter of meticulously executed portraits and nudes and as a teacher: during his long career, he earned three Salon medals, was appointed to the French Academy of Fine Arts, and attained the rank of Commander in the Legion of Honor.
A reviewer at the 1881 Paris Salon wrote the following about Jules-Joseph Lefèbvre: "It is sufficient to just mention his name in order to immediately evoke the memory and the image of the thousand adorable creatures of which he is the father.... Jules Lefèbvre, better than anyone else caresses, with a brush both delicate and sure, the undulating contour of the feminine form".
Like a typical academic artist, Lefèbvre started his career with the traditional subject matter of histories and other narratives. It would not be till later in his career that he would focus exclusively on the human figure in portraiture and especially the female nude, with great ability and success.
Lefèbvre was born on March 14th, 1836. Though his father was only a baker, he nonetheless encouraged his son to pursue painting, sending him to study in Paris in 1852. There, Lefèbvre became a pupil of Léon Cogniet and a year later started attending the École des Beaux Arts. His debut at the Paris Salon was in 1855. He then spent the next few years pursuing the coveted Prix de Rome (the main competition for young painters, which would win him five years of study in Rome and a reputation that would all but guarantee a successful career). In 1859 he came close, placing second. Two years later the history painting The Death of Priamwould win him first place.