After first developing his craft in his native Brussels and Antwerp, Flemish sculptor Gerard van Opstal moved to Paris around 1642 on the invitation of Cardinal Richelieu. Finding employment assisting a decorative sculptor, he contributed to many of the new architectural structures built for the king and members of the court. Soon, however, Van Opstal received his own commissions and in 1651 was give the title of sculpteur des bâtiments du roi (Sculptor of the King's Buildings). He specialized in the low-relief friezes of classical mythological subjects such as tritons, nereids, and centaurs that decorated the many palaces and hôtels particuliers in and around Paris. Members of the court also prized Van Opstal's ivory reliefs, carved in a dramatic, fluid style inspired by Peter Paul Rubens.
In 1648 Van Opstal helped found the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris. He was repeatedly elected rector of the academy, a post he held at the time of his death in 1668.