Having had a significantly more privileged upbringing than many other visionaries of the period, Dinet, the son of a highly regarded French judge, showed a comprehensive understanding of the Middle Eastern world. During his years at the prestigious École nationale supé rieure des Beaux-Arts, he was also tutored by Tony Robert-Fleury and William Bouguereau which prepared him for his debut at the Salon. Setting him apart from other Orientalists, the restrictive requirements of the Salon culminated in a more conservative approach to the paintings detailing his travels to North Africa. However, to his credit, Dinet's flair for the Arabic language and lifestyle prevented him from ignorantly judging his subjects with Western eyes.
In contrast to previous travelling artists, Etienne Dinet's strayed from the objectification of his foreign subjects and even had nude women in rural Algeria model for him. His works were often labelled "anecdotal genre scenes" for their warm embrace of and familiarisation with the cultural differences of the Eastern region, without the racial stereotypes which were so often applied. Besides his passion for travel, Etienne Dinet founded the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1889 with Charles Cottet, Meissonier, Puvis de Chavannes, Carolus-Duran and Rodin.
Immersed in Islamic practices, Dinet would increasingly explore the painting of religious subjects and finalised his official conversion in 1913. The mutual respect and affection held between Dinet and the Arabic natives was reflected in the 5000 who attended his funeral in Bou Sada in 1930.