Gros was one of the major French history painters of the early nineteenth century. Born on 16 March 1771 in Paris, he became a pupil of Jacques-Louis David in 1785, entering the Academy in 1787. In 1792, he entered the competition for the Prix de Rome and in 1793 he went to Italy. Because of the French invasion, he could not go to Rome and stayed in Northern Italy. He witnessed the battle of Arcole in 1796. In 1796-9 he lived in Milan where he first met Napoleon and returned to Paris in 1800.
He painted portraits and romantic literary subjects, but his reputation was made by his close association with Napoleon, whose deeds he staged in such large canvases as the Pestiférés de Jaffa (Salon 1804; Louvre), Napoleon in the Battle of Eylau (1807) and the Bataille des Pyramides (Salon 1810; Versailles). He became crucial in developing Napoleonic propaganda. Gros exhibited at the Salon 1798-1835 and was made chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1808 and officier in 1829. He was elected to the Institut in 1815 and succeeded David as professeur at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1816.
He was made baron by Charles X in 1824. During his later years his davidien ideas were increasingly criticised and his unhappiness led him to take his own life, by drowning in the Seine, on 26 June 1835.