Bourdon was born in Montpellier, France, the son of a Protestant painter on glass. He was apprenticed to a painter in Paris. In spite of his poverty he managed to get to Rome in 1636. There he studied the paintings of masters such as Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Caravaggio. He was forced to flee Rome in 1638, fearing prosecution for his Reformed Protestant faith.
He lived in Paris from 1637 to 1652. In 1648, Bourdon was one of the founders of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and was elected as one of the original twelve elders in charge of its running.
Bourdon's facility rendered him adept at portraiture, whether in a dashing Rubens manner or in intimate, sympathetic bust-length or half-length portraits isolated against plain backgrounds that set a formula for middle-class portraiture for the rest of the century, landscapes in the manner of Gaspar Dughet or capricci of ruins, mythological "history painting" like other members of Poussin's circle or the genre subjects of the Dutch Bamboccianti who were working in Rome. His eclectic range of styles have given art historians exercise in tracing his adaptation of his models, while the lack of an immediately recognizable "Bourdon style" has somewhat dampened public appreciation. Some of his work was in the neoclassical style of Parisian Atticism.
Bourdon spent most of his working career outside France, where, though he was a founding member of the Académie royale, he was for long largely dismissed as a pasticheur, a situation partly rectified by a comprehensive exhibition in 2000 of his work at the Musée Fabre, Montpelier (whose collection includes a fine Lamentation painted in the last years of his life).
- Benedict, Philip (1999). "Calvinism as a Culture?". In Finney, Paul Colby (ed.). Seeing Beyond the Word. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. p. 36. ISBN 9780802838605.
- Thierry Bayou, Bourdon, Sébastien, Grove Art Online.
- Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de l'Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture depuis 1648 jusqu'en 1664, Ed. Anatole de Montaiglon, Paris 1853, vol. I, p. 36.
- Queen Christina on Horseback 1653, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
- Queen Christina, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; Unknown Man, Musée Fabre, Montpellier; Corfitz Ulfeldt, Frederiksborg, Denmark
- The Finding of Moses, c. 1650, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Bacchus and Ceres with Nymphs and Satyrs, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, etc
- Laureati, Laura, 1983. in Giuliano Briganti, Ludovica Trezzani, and Laura Laureati. The Bamboccianti: The Painters of Everyday Life in Seventeenth Century Rome (Rome) pp. 238–45
- Media related to Sébastien Bourdon at Wikimedia Commons
- Sébastien Bourdon on-line
- Web Gallery of art: Sébastien Bourdon
- The Encampment, c. 1636-38 (Oberlin College). A genre scene set in a fantastic landscape of lowering cliffs.
- Portrait (engraving) of Sébastien Bourdon by Laurent Cars at University of Michigan Museum of Art