Emilie Charmy was born in Saint-Étienne in 1878. She was orphaned at an early age and her brother, Jean, became her guardian. He spotted her precocious talent and decided to leave Saint-Etienne and move to Lyon. Around 1898, Charmy met the Lyon painter Jacques Martin and became his student. Thanks to the modernity of her mentor, she trained in a climate of freedom that was already far from the academic tradition of her time.

In 1904, Charmy and her brother moved to Saint-Cloud, near Paris, which was closer to the Parisian art scene. She exhibited for the first time at the Salon des Indépendants in 1905, where she was noticed by Berthe Weill, with whom she exhibited 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 paintings and twenty-five watercolours, mainly landscapes of Corsica painted during the summer of 1906, then in 1910. A little later, the Druet Gallery presented a work by Charmy, "Vue de l'Estaque" from 1906, at the Armory Show in New York in 1913. This painting was bought by the collector Arthur Jerome Eddy who donated it in 1931 to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Between 1911 and 1912, she met the painter George Bouche. She spent the summer in Marnat (Auvergne) where Bouche chose to live for six months of the year. He painted a singular work for the time, notably large landscapes with a lot of substance on the verge of abstraction. Charmy discovers Marnat and continues his research on the landscape and the self-portrait. Period of flat colours. In 1915, birth of his son, Edmond. Bouche and Charmy did not marry until their son was 18 years old, in Paris in 1933.

From 1921 onwards, Emilie Charmy enjoyed some success. She was honoured by the press, 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 networks, apart from a few exhibitions at Jeanne Castel in the early 1950s.

She continued to work in solitude, moving in new directions, notably with self-portraits that present a curious and fascinating fusion of introspection and masquerade. She died in Paris in 1974.