He was born in Bédarieux, Hérault and initially studied at l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse before going to Paris. He studied under Leon Cogniet, Alexandre Cabanel and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. In 1863 he made a successful debut at the Salon, and from the 1870s, his popularity grew quickly. He enjoyed the protection of the academic sculptor Francisque Duret, whose daughter he married, and of Bouguereau, with whom he had also worked. He won various prizes and medals and in 1874 he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. He created several works of lasting popularity, including Le Printemps, featuring two young lovers sitting upon a swing, and The Storm. Both these paintings are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; The Storm belongs to the museum while Le Printemps is owned privately.
Cot also was renowned for his portraits, which made up the majority of his work. The more enduring figurative work, such as The Storm, is comparatively rare. Shortly after his death at the age of forty-six (August 1883), a subscription was undertaken for a commemorative monument to the artist, which was erected at Bédarieux in 1892.