By the 1860s Alexandre Cabanel had firmly established himself as an archetypal academic painter and leading Pompier artist of his time. Alongside Bougereau, Cabanel was one the favourite artists of Napoleon III who, conscious of the power of art as propaganda to glorify his Empire, favoured grand and moralising historical and biblical subjects. Cabanel, who won the Prix de Rome in 1845 and entered the Institut in 1863, played a leading role in the official Salon during the Second Empire in France.
In 1867, Cabanel exhibited three paintings at the Exposition Universelle, La Naissance de Venus (Muse d'Orsay, Paris), Nymphe enleve par un faune and Le Paradis perdu (the painting was previously in the Maximilianeum, Munich, and was destroyed in 1945). The first two were earlier triumphs of the Salon and had been acquired by Napoleon himself. Le Paradis perdu was a commission from King Louis II of Bavaria for a larger planned tableau of decorative canvases depicting Adam and Eve. In Le Paradis perdu, Adam and the prostrate Eve at the base of the Tree of Life are expelled from Paradise by God. The present painting is a reduced version of this Salon picture.
The work received immediate applause when it was unveiled at the Exposition Universelle and the King was so pleased by the finished piece that he awarded Cabanel La Croix de chevalier de premire classe de l'Ordre du Mrite de Saint Michl de Bevire. In his review of Cabanel's entries to the 1867 Exhibition Universelle, Olivier Merson wrote that the painting was "La pice capitale de l'artiste" and rhapsodized: "Cette toile, qui n'avait point figure figure l'un des prcdents Salons, tait attendue avec quelques impatience: beaucoup, l'ayant vue, publiaient ses louanges; on en parlait comme d'un chef-d'oeuvre accompli. Assurment nul ne serait bien venu de contester l'habilit extraordinaire deploye en cette circonstance par le peintre. Finesse d'excution, model soutenu jusque dans les moindres passages, nettet, prcision du travail, voil qui saute aux yeux, frappe les plus difficiles: les tons ont t passs les uns dans les autres avec une vigilance et une galit d'humeur inaltrables; des renflements et des dpressions musculaires rien qui ne soit crit trs lisiblement; pour tout dire, obissante et fidle, la main a rempli sa tche jusqu'au bout avec la dernire exactitude, la ponctualit la plus louable. C'est le triomphe de l'outil."
With his studied compositions, his attention to detail and his timeless subjects, Cabanel was one of the most patronised and successful artists of the Second Empire.