A native of Toulouse, Martin trained at the École des Beaux-Arts there from 1877-9. Two years later he won a bursary that allowed him to move to Paris to study under Jean-Paul Laurens at the École des Beaux-Arts. The French state acquired a painting from him in 1882 while he was still a pupil of Laurens. In 1883 he won a first class medal at the Salon. In 1885 he won a bursary to travel to Italy, and began to develop an interest in literary and pictorial Symbolism.
From 1887-9 he was also working on his magnum opus, Fête de la Fédération au Champs de Mars, le 14 juillet 1790 (Musée des Augustins, Toulouse). This celebration of the centenary of the French Revolution brought him considerable public and critical attention. He was then in great demand for the decoration of public buildings. Additionally he completed decorations for private patrons. Although initially an exponent of Symbolism, Martin later adopted the pointilliste technique of Seurat, Cross and Signac. He developed an entirely personal style of painting which brought him huge commercial success. Public recognition led to his appointment as Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1898, Officier in 1905 and Commandeur in 1914.