Born on 24 February 1661 in Champigneulles (Champagne), he was sent to Paris at the age of twelve where he studied from c.1674 with the Flemish animal painter Nicasius Bernaerts (d. 1678), himself a pupil of Frans Snyders. Desportes then attended the Academy as a student and collaborated with other artists, including the decorator Claude III Audran.In his early career, Desportes worked both in still-life and in portrait painting. In 1695-6 he worked as a portrait painter for King Jean III Sobieski in Warsaw. He became a member of the Academy in 1699. His reception piece, a self portrait as a hunter (Paris, Musée du Louvre) combined portrait and still-life elements.
In 1700 Desportes received his first commission from Louis XIV for whom he subsequently painted many still-lifes, hunt and animal pictures, including paintings of the king's dogs.Some of Desportes works for Louis XIV joined the small collection of Old Master paintings in the king's inner apartement in Versailles. In 1712-13 he spent six months in England. His Royal patronage continued after the death of the King in 1715, and he worked for the Regent and for Louis XV. He worked for most of the French high aristocracy.In 1735, Desportes began work on a series of tapestry cartoons for the Gobelins featuring plants and animals of the West Indies.
Desportes was extraordinarily productive. C. 850 paintings are today accepted as by his hand. His work marks the first great flowering of French still-life painting. He died in Paris on 20 April 1743. His works were based on drawings and on oil sketches that today surprise through their immediate observation of nature. In 1784 his descendants sold the drawings and sketches left in his studio to Louis XVI and they were placed in the Manufacture de Sèvres.