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Leon-Jean-Basile Perrault was born in June 1832, in Poitiers, France. He was born into a very poor family, and as a boy, he dreamed of ways to earn income in order to free his family from such conditions. Thus he decided to follow an artist’s career.
At 14 years old, Perrault began taking drawing classes that were being offered in his hometown. His early and yet, keen talent was recognized by a local painter, who hired young Perrault as his assistant. He worked restoring murals and paintings in churches and also at the ancient Saint Radegonde Cathedral.
By 19 years old, Perrault was awarded first place in a drawing competition, and his artwork was bought by the state for their collection. Two years later, he traveled to Paris on a pension of 600 francs granted by the city of Poitiers. He was welcomed in François-Edouard Picot’s home and atelier, where Perrault would begin his formal art training. He continued studying at the Academie Julian, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s atelier and also at the Beaux-Arts Academy. The training under the rigorous and watchful eyes of both Bouguereau and Picot heavily influenced Perrault’s artwork, regarding his interest in religious and allegorical subjects.
Perrault’s recognition only grew and in 1860 he debuted at the Paris Salon. He exhibited Vieillard et les Trois Jeunes Hommes, inspired by La Fontaine’s fable, The Old Man and the Three Young Ones. He continued to show allegorical, religious, historical battle scenes and became a rather important and perennial figure at the Salon. His la Descente de Croix and Christ au tombeau, both exhibited in 1863, were very well received and greatly praised. In the following year, he would receive his first medal at the Salon, also being awarded in the years 1876 and 1878.
Perrault became a praised, respected artist and his reputation spread overseas, as he was invited to exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum. In 1873 he was appointed as “diplôme d’honneur”, in order to represent France in Vienna, London and Philadelphia.
In 1887, Perrault was awarded the prestigious French Legion of Honour and was knighted as Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur. This distinguished honor was followed by a Bronze and Silver medals at the 1899 and 1900 Exhibition Universal, respectively.