A pupil at first of Delaroche, with whom he visited Italy 1843-4, he then studied briefly with Charles Gleyre (1806-74). His painting The Cockfight (Paris, Louvre) attracted considerable acclaim at the Paris Salon of 1847 and placed him at the head of the fashionable Néo-Grec movement which favoured graceful and intimate subjects set in Antiquity. Thereafter he remained a prominent exhibitor at the Salon, showing historical scenes, portraits, sculpture (from 1878) and Orientalist subjects for which he was particularly esteemed.
A visit to Constantinople in 1854 was the first of several to the Middle East. His pictures are notable for their rich colour and their smooth and meticulous finish. Photographic reproductions, for which they were ideally suited, were sold in large numbers.