At age twenty, with eleven francs in his pocket, Pierre-Jean David d'Angers arrived in Paris and began working in Philippe-Laurent Roland's studio. Later, as a winner of the Prix de Rome, he studied antiquities in Italy, where he met Antonio Canova and absorbed current trends in Neoclassical art. Yet, regarding sculpture as "the recorder of posterity," he often tempered the classicizing elements in his work with a vigorous realism. Back in Paris, David d'Angers created a sensation at the 1817 Salon with his monument to the French general, the prince de Condé. The sculpture's contemporary dress and diagonal movement challenged Neoclassical taste, heralding the Romantic style that David d'Angers later developed more fully. During the next two decades, he received numerous important monumental commissions while also sculpting the many portraits that made him one of the era's most influential portrait sculptors. In 1826 he was appointed professor at the École des Beaux-Arts.
After Napoleon III's coup d'état in 1851, David d'Angers was temporarily exiled for his republican beliefs. When he returned to France in 1853, ill health prevented him from working again. In the course of his astonishingly prolific career, he produced over 50 full-size statues, 150 busts, and over 500 portrait medallions of the era's major literary, political, and artistic figures.