Thoré-Bürger was born in La Flèche, Sarthe. His career as art critic started in the 1830s, but he was also active as a political journalist. In March 1848 he founded La Vraie République, a newspaper that was soon banned by Louis-Eugène Cavaignac. A year later, in March 1849, he founded another newspaper, Le Journal de la vraie République; that too was soon banned. Thoré-Bürger went into exile to Brussels. He continued publishing articles, now under the pseudonym William Bürger. He only returned to France after the amnesty of 1859. He died in Paris ten years later.
Today, Thoré-Bürger is best known for rediscovering the work of Johannes Vermeer and several other prominent Dutch artists, such as Frans Hals (he was the first to describe the portrait of Malle Babbe), Carel Fabritius, and others. Thoré-Bürger's interest in Vermeer began in 1842 when he saw the View of Delft in the Mauritshuis of The Hague. Vermeer's name was wholly forgotten at the time; Thoré-Bürger was so impressed with the View of Delft that he spent the years before his exile searching for other works by the painter. He would eventually publish descriptions and a catalogue of Vermeer's work, although many of the paintings he attributed to the master were later proven to have been executed by others.