Henri Biva was born in Montmartre at 18 rue du Vieux Chemin de Paris (named rue Ravignan after 1867). His official date of birth is 23 January 1848. He grew up in an artistic environment, both within his own family and in the neighborhood in which he lived. His younger brother Paul Biva (1851–1900) also became a painter, as would Henri Biva's son Lucien Biva (1878–1965).
In 1873 Biva studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where many famous artists in Europe were trained. His teachers included Léon Tanzi (1846–1913), an esteemed Realist painter, and Alexandre Nozal (1852–1929) a respected landscape artist that perambulated from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism. A trace of both instructors can be contemplated in Biva's work. This, in addition to the lessons at l'Académie Julian with William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jules Joseph Lefebvre, would ultimately propel Henri Biva to the fore as a career artist. These combined influences explain the skillfully controlled artistry of Henri Biva. The Académie had a very strict and rigorous philosophy toward paintings, yet throughout its history many artists that studied there from 1868 onwards had initiated new artistic movements, or were involved to some extent within them (the case of Biva).
Shortly thereafter, during the latter half of the 1870s, Henri Biva began showing his works in the Parisian salon's, while enjoying sufficient commercial success to make his living.
At the Salon de 1879 (which opened on 12 May in Paris at the Palais des Champs-Élysées) Biva exhibited two paintings: Les roses du parc and Pavillon d'été du Chateau de Villeneuve-l'Étang, numbers 293 and 294 in the catalogue.
Janet Whitmore writes of Biva's work, something that could apply to many of his paintings:
"Like the naturalist painters such as Jules Bastien-Lepage or Rosa Bonheur, there is a strong tactile quality to Biva's work, focused on the shapes, colors and forms of the small plants beside the stream or the smooth grey surface of the tree trunks. Equally important in the nineteenth-century marketplace, this type of landscape painting offered an intimate glimpse of a specific locale, a reminder of days spent in the French countryside, or perhaps at the immense forest preserves surrounding Paris. Unlike contemporaries such as Pissarro or Monet, Biva's landscapes suggest a time before industrialization when no railroad or factory disrupted rural vistas. Rather, these images show no evidence of human activity at all except for the occasional fisherman drowsing by the riverside. (Janet Whitmore, Ph.D.)
With his style ranging between Post-Impressionism and Realism, with a pronounced Naturalist temperament—visible in Villeneuve-l'étang (soir) and Après le coucher du soleil—the paintings of Henri Biva gained in popularity amongst private collectors and public institutions.
"Although Biva's career seems to have flourished during the 1880s," writes Janet Whitmore, "he received particular acclaim in the 1890s beginning with his first honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1892 when his work as a painter of landscapes and flowers was especially noted. Three years later, in 1895, he received a third class medal, and in 1896, a second class medal. With this third award in place, he was no longer obligated to submit his work to the annual jury for acceptance, but instead was guaranteed an automatic position at the Salon."
"The turn of the century brought Biva continued success and public renown. His landscapes and flower paintings, still widely sought after by art collectors, gradually evolved into more meditative images."
In 1886 Biva exhibited three works, including Une rue de Ville-d'Avray, La Nuit, at the Exposition Internationale de Blanc et Noir (Louvre, Pavillon de l'enseignement, Rue des Tuileries, Paris, 20 March-20 April 1886). Biva's was awarded the Médaille de bronze at the Exposition Universelle (1900), inviting the attention of the Purchasing Committee, while his teacher Alexandre Nozal was awarded the silver medal.
Upon recommendation of Le Ministre de l'Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts, 11 August 1900, Biva was decorated Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur, 29 November 1900, and breveted by the Grand Chancelier, 12 December of the same year.
This honorable accomplishment appears to have stimulated further commercial success in the years leading up to World War I. Following the war years, Biva's sales rebounded as he continued exhibiting paintings throughout the 1920s.
Biva exhibited his painting in the Salons des Artistes Francais, Paris, in 1900, 1903, 1904 and 1905. In 1923 Henri Biva was elected vice-president of the Salon d'Hiver (Winter Salon), founded in 1897, first exhibition 1904.
Biva continued to show regularly in Paris, with a conspicuous break during World War I (most of the Salons being closed for the duration 1914-1918). Some of Biva's documented exhibitions include: Salon 1905, Salon 1906, Salon 1908 (Société Lyonnaise des Beaux-Arts), Salon 1909, Salon des Artistes Français 1910, Salon d'Hiver 1910, Salon 1911, Salon d'Hiver 1911, Salon des Artistes Français 1912, Salon 1919, Salon 1921, Salon d'Hiver 1923, Le Salon 1928 Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, Société des Artistes Français (the year before his death).
According to his death certificate (avis de décès), Biva died 2 February 1929 at his home in Paris, 72 rue du Château-d'Eau. The date of death for Biva of 1928 found ubiquitously on the Internet is erroneous. As his death certificate testifies, he actually died in 1929.Musée Baron Gérard, Bayeux , Musée de France (Après le coucher du soleil) Acquisition date 2007/01/22
Musée municipal, Loire-Atlantique; Saint-Nazaire (L'après-midi à Villeneuve-l'Etang ) dat de l'acte 1907
Base Arcade, Archives National
Culture.fr, Henri Biva
Musée, Loire; Roanne (Nature Morte)
Musée, Calvados; Bayeux (Après le coucher du soleil)
Paris, agence photo RMN, fonds Druet-Vizzavona, Paris (Les brumes et rosées du matin; Villeneuve-l'étang, exposé au Salon des Artistes Français de 1907)
Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, Les brumes, Villeneuve-l'Etang, 1909