At age 21 Joseph Paelinck left is native country, Flanders, and the farming life he was born into to pursue a painting career. He arrived in Paris in 1802, during the early years of Napoleon Bonaparte's reign, to study with the celebrated painter Jacques-Louis David. In 1804 Paelinck's painting Judgment of Paris won a prize at the Ghent Salon, and his talent came to the attention of notable patrons. Many royal commissions for historical and religious subjects followed. In 1806 Paelinck returned to Belgium for two years before winning an award from the town of Ghent to study in Rome for four years.
Paelinck's paintings reflected the various artistic movements popular in his day, with early works tending toward the Neoclassical style, and later works expressing the tenets of Romanticism. Paelinck's later paintings were not well received, and his standing in the art world waned until his death in 1839.