His father was a clerk in the Politiret (Police Court). He lost both parents at the age of nine and was placed in the Royal Orphanage, which also provided and elementary education. After his confirmation, he began taking classes in ornamental painting at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. At the same time, he was apprenticed to the landscape painter, Jens Peter Møller.
He continued to take advanced classes at the Academy and, in 1827, set himself up as a decorative painter. He was married that same year. In 1830, he returned to the Academy for more training and was awarded several cash prizes for landscape painting. By 1837, the Academy was willing to recommend him for the "Fonden ad usus publicos", a fund created by King Frederick V to promote the arts and sciences, but he chose to wait. (The fund was discontinued in 1842.)
In 1840, he apparently borrowed money from a brother to travel to Germany and, in 1842, gained a travel scholarship from the Academy and the support of A.W. Moltke. When he returned from Munich in 1843, he was able to sell some paintings to Moltke and the Kunstforeningen. He became a member of the Academy in 1845 and a corresponding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in 1848 for his work on a popular book of Swedish landscapes, published by Albert Bonniers förlag.
In 1863, he painted a landscape that featured Bernstorff Palace as a bridal gift for Princess Alexandra upon her marriage to Edward VII. From 1867 he was a painter in residence at Charlottenborg Palace. In 1874, he was named a Knight in the Order of the Dannebrog.
Always in excellent health, he suddenly fell dead at the age of eighty-six. His daughter, Hanne, a painter who spent much of her career in South America, preceded him in death in 1879, aged forty-eight. His son, Hjalmar, was a noted botanist.