Stevens started his art training with his first teacher Francois Navez in Brussels, where he quickly mastered the skill of painting portraits, landscapes and seascapes. He came from a prominent artistic family, his brother Joseph Edouard Stevens was a great painter of figures and animals (especially dogs) as well as a watercolorist and capable engraver.
In 1844 Stevens went to Paris and worked under the instruction of Camille Roqueplan, a friend of his father's; he also attended the classes at the École des Beaux-Arts, where Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingress was then professor. His first picture is dated 1848, A Soldier in Trouble, his early works show a debt to the Realism of Gustave Courbet and the historical subjects of Henri Leys. After 1855 he turned to painting genre scenes depicting female subjects within middle-class Parisian interiors.
By 1855, when he had six paintings in the Universal Exhibition, he had established himself as an artist. In 1863 he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. The previous year, in Brussels, he had one painting bought for the Brussels Museum and another by King Leopold.
Stevens was greatly influenced by the French Impressionists and had a very close friendship with Eduard Manet and Edgar Degas. During the 1860’s Stevens, Manet, Degas, Bazille and Berthe Morisot attended the same Salons and visited each others homes and studios. In 1883, upon Manet’s death, Stevens joined Monet, Zola, Duret, Burty and Antonin Proust as pall bearers at the funeral.
Stevens exhibited extensively in his career and had particular success at the Paris International Exhibitions of 1878 and 1889, and at the Historical Exhibition of Belgian Art, Brussels, 1880. In 1890 he was admitted to the ‘Société Nationale des Beaux Artes’.
The painter Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) should not be confused with the British sculptor of the same name whose dates were 1817-1876. Stevens’s work has made more than a million dollars in the past and his works frequently command prices in the hundreds of thousands. Studies and sketches can make up to $10,000.