Merson, the son of the painter and art critic Charles-Olivier Merson, signed himself Luc Olivier-Merson. He studied under Charles Chassevent and Isidore Pils. He entered the Institut in 1892, and was appointed professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1894. From the outset, he sided with the defenders of Classicism and the theories of the École, giving up his professorship in protest against what he considered to be the relaxation of standards in modern art studies.
Merson worked in many fields. In 1875, he exhibited a St Michael, a design for a tapestry produced at the Gobelins factory for the so-called Salle des Évêques at the Panthéon, in a style similar to the illuminations of the Middle Ages. He participated in the decoration of the Palais de Justice in Paris with St Louis Opens the Gates of the Jails on his Accession and St Louis Condemns Sire Enguerrand de Coucy, painted in an archaic manner in the style of artists of the Quattrocento. He produced the sketch for the mosaic in the church of the Sacré-Coeur in Paris, murals at the Sorbonne, and allegorical subjects - Music, Poetry, Elegy- at the Opéra-Comique. He produced 50- and 100-franc notes for the Bank of France. His most notable work as an illustrator include illustrations for The Hunchback of Notre Dame ( Notre-Dame de Paris) by Victor Hugo; Les Nuits by Alfred de Musset; La Jacquerie by Prosper Mérimée; and Les Trophées by José Maria de Hérédia.
Merson won the Prix de Rome in 1869 and was made Chevalier, Officier and Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur in 1881, 1900 and 1920, respectively. In 1867, he made his début at the Salon de Paris exhibiting the history painting Leucothea and Anaxander. In 1873, he won a first-class medal with Vision, 14th-Century Legend. He won a gold medal and the Grand Prix at the Expositions Universelles in 1889 and 1900, respectively.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Bordeaux: Angelic Salutation (1890)
Chantilly: Marie-Félicie des Ursins, Duchess of Montmorency, and the Poet Théophile de Viau; Mlle de Clermont and the Count of Melun
Lille: Vision, 14th-Century Legend; Wolf of Gubbio (1877)
Mulhouse: Arrival in Bethlehem
Nantes: St Francis of Assisi Preaching to the Fish (1881)
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): Family; Truth (1901)
Roubaix: Ceramic; Weaving
Rouen: St Isidore the Farmer
Troyes: Martrydom of St Edmund