René de Saint-Marceaux was born in Reims, northeast of Paris, the son of a champagne maker and the grandson of the city’s mayor. He entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the early 1860s and studied under the sculptor François Jouffroy. The 1868 Salon committee accepted Saint-Marceaux’s sculpture of The Youth of Dante; he would continue to show at the Salon throughout his career.
Saint-Marceaux exhibited a terracotta bust of a child at the Salon of 1874 that the portraitist—and teacher of John Singer Sargent— Carolus-Duran later purchased for his own collection. By 1876, Saint-Marceaux had rented a studio at 68, rue d’Assas, in Paris, close to the Luxembourg Gardens.
In 1892, Saint-Marceaux married Marguerite Jourdain, the affluent widow of the artist Eugène Baugnies. Marguerite de Saint-Marceaux kept a busy social calendar. Her parties brought wealthy Parisian society members together with artists and musicians. Saint-Marceaux and the Haggins were a part of the same community of artists, their friends and critics, and their collectors.