After studying with the sculptor Jean-Jacques Feuchère (d. 1852), and then with his own father, Pierre (d. 1869), Emile Hébert exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time in 1849. Whilst his initial offerings concentrated on conventional portraiture, the appearance of Hébert's plaster Mephistophélès at the Salon of 1853 revealed a different side of his talent, since it required a kind of visual imagination going beyond the specifics of portraiture. The subject chosen also reflected the French fascination with diabolic subjects, which having been piqued in 1801 with Friedrich Klinger's French translation of Goethe's Faust, flourished throughout the Romantic era.
Recorded neither in Lami's listing of Hébert's works, nor in Stump's insightful article on themes in the sculptor's oeuvre (loc. cit), the model for the present finely-cast bronze entitled La Sorcière may well have been inspired by the publication in 1862 of an identically-titled work by the French historian, Jules Michelet. The latter claimed La Sorcière to be a description of the rites of medieval witches, describing them as followers of a pre-Christian goddess religion. Although it was a best seller, the scholarship that went into the work was poor and the book was ultimately considered nothing more than a romantic flight of fancy.