Emilie Charmy was born in Saint-Étienne in 1878. Orphaned at an early age, her brother Jean became her guardian. He spotted her precocious talent and decided to leave Saint-Etienne and move to Lyon. There, around 1898, Charmy met the painter Jacques Martin. She was a frequent visitor of his studio thereby becoming his pupil. Thanks to the modernity of her mentor, she trained in a climate of freedom that was already far remote from the academic traditions of her time.
In 1904, Charmy and her brother moved to Saint-Cloud, closer to the Parisian art scene. She had her first time at the Salon des Indépendants in 1905, where she was noticed by Berthe Weill, with whom she exhibited afterwards in numerous group shows. Around 1910, Charmy moved to Paris. She had her first solo exhibition in 1911 at the Eugène Druet gallery. The exhibition included forty canvasses and twenty-five watercolours, mainly landscapes of Corsica painted during the summer of 1906 and again in 1910. A little later, the Druet gallery presented a work by Charmy entitled "Vue de l'Estaque" from 1906 at the Armory Show in New York. This painting was bought by the collector Arthur Jerôme Eddy, who donated it to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1931.
Between 1911 and 1912, she met the painter George Bouche. During the summer she used to spend time in Marnat (Auvergne), where Bouche had chosen to live for six months of the year. His body of works are quite singular for its time, in particular large landscapes with a great deal of substance, bordering on abstraction. Charmy discovered Marnat and continued her research into landscapes and self-portraits. This was the period of solid colours. In 1915, their son Edmond was born. It wasn't until the latter was 18 that Bouche and Charmy got married in Paris, in 1933.
From 1921 onwards, Emilie Charmy enjoyed some success. She was honoured by the press, through numerous exhibitions and texts from critics and writers of the time, including Colette, Louis Léon Martin, Henri Béraud, Roland Dorgelès, Pierre Mac Orlan, Arsène Alexandre, Louis Vauxcelles and Louise Weiss. Charmy was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1926, thanks to the mediation of Élie-Joseph Bois, director of "the Petit Parisien". Charmy's success continued throughout the 1930s, until the Second World War swept away most of her personal network, apart from a few exhibitions at Jeanne Castel in the early 1950s.
She continued to work in solitude, moving in new directions, especially with self-portraits which present a curious and fascinating fusion of introspection and masquerade. She died in Paris in 1974.