De Loutherbourg was born in Strasbourg, but moved with his family to Paris in 1755. He exhibited at the Paris salon from 1762. His works were mainly either landscapes inspired by Dutch 17th-century prototypes or romanticised shipwrecks which continue the tradition of Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). He also painted pictures of bandits recalling the style of Salvator Rosa.
He moved to London in November 1771 where he worked as a stage designer at the Drury Lane theatre for David Garrick and subsequently for Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He is recognised as the most inventive and influential stage designer active Europe during the eighteenth century.
He continued to paint landscapes in England, his work tending to become more topographical. He subsequently turned to Biblical subjects where his sense of the dramatic find expression in scenes of terrfiying chaos, works which 'made a profound impression on J.M.W. Turner and John Martin'.