Born in Latrop, Netherlands, he studied with Andreas Schelfhout in the Hague and Eugène Isabey in Paris. He returned to Rotterdam from 1855 to 1860 but after that spent the rest of his life in France, dividing his time between Paris and the Dauphiné. A contemporary of and the Barbizon painters, he played a major role in the transition of landscape painting to impressionism. He knew Courbet, Corot and Millet. When Jongkind was painting in Le Havre, he had been introduced to Monet, who in turn introduced him to Boudin in 1862. Both Charles Baudelaire and Emile Zola admired him and wrote of his work in magazines and newspapers. He suffered from paranoia and ended his days in a mental institution.