Joseph Vivien trained as a painter in Paris in the 1670s, eventually specializing in portraiture. The Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture received him in 1698, making him only the second artist to be accepted as a portraitist using the pastel medium. Vivien eventually became the premier proponent of the pastel portrait in France. His contemporaries admired his sophisticated use of color; one admirer bestowed upon him the title "Van Dyck of pastel." In his emphasis on translating oil effects into pastel, he anticipated the greatest pastel portraitist of the next generation, Maurice-Quentin de la Tour.
In 1700 Vivien was appointed court painter to Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, and thereafter divided his time between Paris, Maximilian Emmanuel's courts at Brussels and Munich, and the court of Maximilian Emmanuel's brother at Bonn.