Jules Bastien-Lepage was born in Damvillers, France on November 1, 1848. Bastien's father grew grapes in a vineyard to support the family. Bastien took an early liking to drawing, and his parents fostered his creativity by buying prints of paintings for him to copy. By age 9 he was a very gifted artist with pencil; he attended Verdun seminary and won every prize for drawing. He decided that he wanted to be a great painter, and he was eventually sent to Paris, where all students of art would start.
In Paris he supported himself by working as a postal clerk until he realized that he could not work as an artist and a clerk, and quit the postal service. When he quit, he returned home for a short time, and then came to Paris to study with Alexandre Cabanel. He worked with Cabanel until the summer of 1870. During his time there, he debuted his work in the Salon: a portrait of one of his friends.
When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, Bastien fought when men were needed for the troops. Bastien was a man by this time, medium height and stout. After the war, he returned home to paint the villagers. In 1873 he painted his grandfather in the garden, and this painting later became a favorite for many art lovers for its true-to-life qualities. In 1873 he was also commissioned to paint the Prince of Wales.
In 1874 Bastien began winning awards. He won a third-class medal for his painting of the museum of Verdun; the government subsequently bought it from him. In 1875, he won second class for a painting of Monsieur Simon Hayem. In 1875 as well, the Prix de Rome competition took place. Bastien entered his painting "The Angels Appearing to the Shepherds". Bastien worried about this painting's chances of winning because, even though the event between angel and shepherd had occurred at night, Bastien had decided to paint the scene at dawn so the slight color of the items in the scene were visible. Because of this change, Bastien took second prize and not first; the Academy insisted that he should have followed the true scene.
In 1879, Bastien received the Legion of Honor cross for his painting of Madame Bernhardt. By 1880, Bastien had painted the amazing "Joan of Arc" (or Joan of Arc Hearing Voices), which was first exhibited in that year at the Salon in Paris and then in Ghent, Belgium. Bastien used an apple tree in his grandfather's garden as the model for the tree in the painting. He also used his family's barn to develop the cottage in the painting.
Between 1880 and 1883 he traveled in Italy and enjoyed his voyage very much. But his health was starting to fail him by 1883. He passed away in 1884. After his death, a special exhibition of more than 200 of his pictures was formed at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1889 some of his best work was shown at the Paris Exposition. Although his work was honored, during his lifetime his art sold poorly.