Mercié originally intended Gloria Victis to portray Fame and a victorious soldier. Following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, the victorious soldier was replaced by one in defeat.
The full size plaster model of Gloria Victis was exhibited at the Salon of 1874, winning the Medaille d'Honneur. It was subsequently purchased by the city of Paris and cast in bronze by Victor Thiébaut. The plaster version was re-exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1878 alongside bronze reductions cast by Barbedienne. Mercié's sculpture became an instant classic, even receiving an entry in the Nouveau Larousse Illustré. The group's success undoubtedly lay in the fact that it was admired not just on an aesthetic level, but also on a patriotic level, particularly in its commemoration of heroism in defeat. Critics marvelled at the compositional daring of the group, balancing as it did two figures on the minimal support of one foot.