Auguste-Hyacinthe Debay was born in Nantes, France on 2 April 1804. His father, Joseph Jan Baptiste de Bay, 1829, was an eminent sculptor who worked in Paris and locally in Nantes. Debay learned sculpting from his father at an early age, but started his career as a historical painter. On August 28, 1817, he was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and exhibited his first portraits to The Salon at the age of thirteen. After studying under Gros, he obtained the Prix de Rome in 1823. Soon after this he gave up painting for sculpture, which he studied under his father, and in which he was successful. Some of his historical paintings are displayed at the Versailles.