Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat was born in Bayonne in 1833 and died in Monchy-St-Eloi in 1922.
He discovered painting and received his first artistic lessons in Spain, where his family settled between 1846 and 1853. He continued his training in Bayonne, in 1853, then especially in Paris, from 1854, where he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Léon Cogniet's studio, thanks to the financial assistance granted to him by the city of Bayonne.
Candidate for the Prix de Rome competition, where he only obtained, after two failures in 1854 and 1855, a second second grand prize in 1857, he left, thanks once again to the support of the City of Bayonne, for Rome, where he stayed from 1858 to 1861, enjoying a status close to the laureates of the Prix de Rome. There he frequented Degas, Henner, Gustave Moreau, Delaunay, Jules Lefèbvre, Carolus Duran, Chapu… and produced his first religious works and his first Italian genre scenes.
He exhibited at the Salon from 1857, and was noticed for the first time by the critics at the Salon of 1859. Success was rapid: The Good Samaritain received an honorable mention from the Salon jury in 1859 and was purchased by the State, Mariuccia, presented at the Salon of 1861, was bought by Princess Mathilde… He received his first public order in 1863: a decorative panel on the life of Saint Vincent de Paul for the Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs church in Paris, delivered in 1866. In 1869, Léon Bonnat traveled to the Middle East, where he accompanied Jean-Léon Gérôme. He painted, after his return and for a few years, orientalist genre scenes, while continuing to produce important religious works. In 1869 he received the Medal of Honor of the Salon for L'Assomption. Christ on the Cross, which responded to a state commission for the decoration of the Cour d'Assises of the Palais de Justice in Paris, was presented at the Salon of 1874 and caused a certain scandal. This major work established Léon Bonnat's reputation as a realist painter, or even more a naturalist.