Charles Despiau was born on November 4, 1874, in Mont-de-Marsan, in the Landes province. His father, like his grandfather, was a plasterer. His brother, eight years older, accidentally died at the age of 17. Charles Despiau completes his school studies in his hometown, showing no particular skills, except in drawing and plastic arts.
His art professor notices his talent and pushes him to pursue in that direction as do his parents, no doubt his first admirers. In 1892, at the age of 17, he registers at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, with a departmental scholarship which will help him to settle in the capital. Apart from these studies, he learns stone cutting, first with practitioners and finally with HALOU (1900 – 1901).
Despiau produced a total of some 150 sculptures—not a great deal for a career that spanned fifty years. He was so exacting and so focused that the time of execution did not count for him. And if it did not matter to him, he could not see why it should matter to his models. Despiau never sculpted without a model. There are several surviving plaster states in which same model is reworked with only slight variations. Despiau had a hard time bringing an end to his quest for perfection and the inner beauty of his sitters.
His oeuvre includes over 1,000 drawings and approximately 150 sculptures (bas-reliefs, tablets, figures, and busts). It is worth mentioning Assia (his most widely reproduced work, perhaps his masterpiece), La Bacchante, Le Nu Assis, Eve, Le Réalisateur, Apollon, La Petite Fille des Landes (his native region), La Jeune Fille des Landes, Cra-Cra, and L’Adolescente. Then there are portraits of Paulette, Madame Derain, Maria Lani, Agnès Meyer, Mademoiselle Elie Faure and Princess Murat, as well as several portraits of men including Claude-Raphaël Leygues and Despiau’s friend André Dunoyer de Segonzac.