Brought up in straitened financial circumstances after the murder of his father, he was a pupil of Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet (1792-1845) and then Gros. After failing to win the Prix de Rome for history painting in 1831 he concentrated on drawing and lithography, principally illustrating Napoleonic and contemporary military scenes. In 1837 he met Anatole Demidoff (1813-70) who became his friend and principal patron. For him he produced innumerable ethnographic drawings, many of which were lithographed.
He attended Demidoff on many of his travels, including visits to southern Russia (1837-8), Spain (1847) and London (1851). He was also often at Demidoff's palace at San Donato near Florence.