Born in 1823 at Saint-Marcellin (Isère), Hugues Merle le studied in Paris with the history painter Léon Cogniet (1794-1880) and devoted himself to a wide range of subjects, from religious themes and historical anecdotes to incidents from contemporary life, particularly of the urban and rural poor. His greatest popular successes, however, were won by scenes of maternal affection and childhood innocence that he sought to imbue with impish sweetness and sentimentality. A frequent exhibitor at the Paris Salons from 1847 until 1880, rarely noticed by the more serious critics but cherished all the more by the broad public, he enjoyed the favor of the imperial government, which made him chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1866, at the relatively young age of forty-three. His work, greatly appreciated by American audiences, was strongly represented in American collections during the last decades of the nineteenth century. [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Eitner, Lorenz. French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 310.