Paul Émile Chabas was born in Nantes, France and had his artistic training under artists William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. He first exhibited at the Salon (French: Salon de Paris) which was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France in 1890. He was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 and in 1912 received the Médaille d’honneur for his art work "September Morn". The painting "September Morn" which shows a young woman modestly bathing nude by the edge of Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France provoked intense controversy there about nudity, art, and morality. The controversy this painting created caused it to become one of the most famous paintings of the twentieth century and it's image was reproduced on a wide variety of such things as postcards umbrellas, chocolate boxes, and watch fobs. This painting is often cited as an example of "success by scandal". The publicist for the painting Harry Reichenbach claimed later to have iniated the controversy by reporting to the moral censors the indecency of the painting. In reality he was trying to create an outrage in order to garner more publicity so to sell more copies of the painting.
During the 1890s Chabas illustrated books by authors such as Paul Bourget and Alfred de Musset. In 1921 he became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and received the Légion d’honneur in 1928. Then from 1925 to 1935 he was president of the Société des Artistes Français.
Paul Émile Chabas died in Paris on May 10, 1937.