Destined by family tradition for a life in the civil service, Charles Joseph Watelet was sent to Binche in Hainaut province, Belgium to begin his career. Life as a provincial administrator depressed Watelet. At twenty-three he defied the family and went to Brussels to enroll in the studio of Jean François Portaels the director of the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts. Watelet’s progression was rapid and after three months Portaels sent Watelet to Paris to study with Alfred Stevens. This would prove a prodigious pairing. Stevens, one of the foremost painters of women in the Second Empire, placed them in atmospheric settings, dressed splendidly, surrounded by luxury imbued with varying psychological moods often underlined by titles such as Parisian, Sphinx, Waiting and Despairing. These works resonated deeply with Watelet and would chart his life’s course, becoming famous for his own portrayals of beautiful women.
Unfortunately lack of funds soon forced the artist to move to Marcinelle, Belgium for ten years, where he established a successful practice as a portraitist among the local notables, but his reputation continued to grow in Paris. In 1902 he began exhibiting at the Salon and the same year was awarded a second class medal, winning a gold one in 1925. He was a member of the Sociétaire Hors Concours aux Artistes Français and a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. He was also able to return to Brussels by 1901 and importantly take part in an exhibition in January 1902 at the Cercle Artistique et Litteraire de Bruxelles which established him among the first rank of young new painters of Belgium. His works, a mix of portraits and genre, were collected by the museums of Brussels, Liège, Ixelles, Rochefort, Saintes, Sens, Sydney, Tournai, Valenciennes and Versailles.