As a young child, Henner was sent by his family to be boarded with the family of a baker, where he reportedly became a spoiled and difficult child. He was only 12 years old when introduced to painting and at a young age entered the studio of Gabriel Guerin in Strasbourg.
Despite behavioral issues, Henner had a passion for learning academics and studying painting. He was a voracious reader. His intellectual and artistic abilities were recognized and at age 19, thanks to a grant from the local General Assembly, he began attending the prestigious l’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Henner stayed in Paris until 1855 when his mother's illness brought him back home. Although consumed with caring for her over the next two years, he spent what free time he had developing his artistic skills and found many willing subjects among local residents.
Throughout his life, Henner enjoyed much recognition for his talents and became known for his expertise in executing the effects of shading, contrast, and volume in his paintings of nudes and in portraits. Among the many honors and titles bestowed upon him were the Prix de Rome and the granting of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor. At the end of his life, in an effort to give back to the city that had nurtured, celebrated, and honored him, Henner donated a portion of his sizable estate to the city of Paris.