He was born in La Rochelle. After leaving school he studied for some years under Louis Cabat, the landscape painter. Fromentin was one of the earliest pictorial interpreters of Algeria, having been able, while quite young, to visit the land and people that suggested the subjects of most of his works, and to store his memory as well as his portfolio with the picturesque and characteristic details of North African life. In 1849 he obtained a medal of the second class.In 1852, he paid a second visit to Algeria, accompanying an archaeological mission, and then completed that minute study of the scenery of the country and of the habits of its people which enabled him to give to his after-work the realistic accuracy that comes from intimate knowledge. In a certain sense his works are contributions to ethnological science as much as they are works of art.He has also written The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland, Dominique and A Summer in the Sahara. In The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland he deals with the complexity of Rubens and Rembrandt's paintings, style and the artists' emotions at the time of creating their masterpieces. He is also one of the first "art critics" to approach the subject of The Old Masters from a personal point of view - being a painter himself. He also puts Rubens' work in a social, political and economic context, as the Dutch School of painting develops shortly after Holland won its independence in 1609. Meyer Schapiro has written a beautiful essay on Fromentin the writer, person and artist called.
His first great success was produced at the Salon of 1847, by the Gorges de la Chiffa.
Among his more important works are:
La Place de la Breche a Constantine (1849), Enterrement Maure (1853), Bateleurs negres (1859), Audience chez un chalife (1859), Berger kabyle (1859), Courriers arabes (1861), Bivouac arabe (1863), Chasse au faucon (1863), Fauconnier arabe (now at Luxembourg) (1863), Chasse au heron (1865), Voleurs de nuit (1867), Centaures et arabes attaques par une lionne (1868), Halte de muletiers (1869), Le Nil (1875), Un souvenir d'Esneh (1875)