Théophile Poilpot was born and lived all of his life in Paris. He received his artistic education in the studios of Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave Boulanger and exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1874.
Poilpot was primarily a military painter and he often collaborated with Edouard Detaille. As is evident in the present painting, he was particularly adept at multifigural and complex compositions and was well-known and respected both abroad and in America as a painter of panoramas. His depictions of famous American Civil War scenes, such as The Battle of Bull Run and The Merrimac and Monitor, made the artist's reputation on this side of the Atlantic.
L'embarquement de La Normandie au Havre is a marvelous example of the artist's ability to capture the dynamism of a crowded scene. The artist has chosen strong diagonals to outline the composition, enhancing the majestic size of the ship and concentrating the energy of the figures crowding together on the quay. Le Havre was France's principal emigrant port during the second half of the 19th Century in the same way that Liverpool served the mainland of Great Britain. The fear and anticipation which would have accompanied any transatlantic crossing at the time is skillfully captured in the variety of figural groupings, each demonstrating varying emotions while they wait amongst their belongings for the beginning of their voyage.