Growing up, Frédéric Back realized it was in his drawings that he expressed himself most easily and decided to study art. In a lithography course at the École Estienne in Paris he had to be satisfied with reproducing others' work, but his favourite subject was still animals. Engravings of heads of lions by a certain Mathurin Méheut especially fascinated him. Two years later, as chance and war would have it, Méheut became the younger man's teacher at the École des Beaux-arts in Rennes. It was an apprenticeship that became a revelation for Back. With Méheut's help, he developed a keen eye and a sure hand for drawing from nature.

A painter, engraver, designer, ceramicist and minute observer of life in all its forms, Mathurin Méheut was an inspiration to his students. With him as their teacher, they discovered the flora and fauna of Brittany, along with its rich local traditions. In the classroom and in the field, the work required technical skill and patience, but thanks to Méheut, Frédéric Back learned to observe the world closely and to draw people and animals in motion.