Dalou began his artistic career as a student of Carpeaux and Duret at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he met his friend and colleague Auguste Rodin. His debut at the Salon was in 1861 when he exhibited Dame Romaine jouant aux Osselets. At the Salon in 1870 he received critical acclaim and a third-class medal for Brodeuse (Woman embroidering).
Dalou was a left-wing Republican, a political conviction that led him to flee Paris for London in 1871. Although Napoleon had been overthrown one year earlier during the Franco-Prussian war, by 1871 foreign forces had seized control of Paris. While the Prussians left the country quickly following the Treaty of Frankfurt, the next decade saw a political power struggle between Monarchists and those in favour of the Republic. This struggle was presided over by a Republican yet highly conservative government, unsympathetic to Dalou’s ideals.
In London, Dalou was appointed as a tutor at the Lambeth art school, where he would lay the foundations for what would become the English New School of sculpture movement. Students of the school included William Goscombe-John, George Frampton and Harry Bates.