Van Lerius was born in Boom, Antwerp, on 23 November 1823. In 1838, he was already an apprentice draftsman at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. From 1839 to 1844, he was a student of Gustave Wappers. He took a study trip through Germany and Italy in 1852. Two years later, he was appointed to a position as a painting instructor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Antwerp). His notable students included Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Aloïs Boudry, Gerard Portielje, Henri Van Dyck and Piet Verhaert.
In 1875, he was diagnosed with meningitis. The following year, he died in Mechelen, where he had gone for treatment.
Van Lerius painted mythological and biblical scenes as well as portraits and genre pictures. Much of his work is didactic in nature.
In 1852 Queen Victoria bought his painting "Premier Né" (First Born), depicting a young couple with a baby. It is still on display at Windsor Castle. Perhaps his best-known work is "Lady Godiva", which was shown at the Antwerp Triennial Salon in 1870. It was purchased by London art dealer Henry Graves. Other paintings found their way to San Francisco and St.Petersburg. For many years, he had an agent in New York. Many of his works (especially "Lady Godiva" and "Cinderella") have been widely reproduced.
Media related to Joseph Van Lerius at Wikimedia Commons