Studied the sciences at Paris. Briefly employed as a pharmacist until he received the brevet of naturaliste voyageur du gouvernement. Traveled through the Alps, the Pyrenees, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Lapland, and Iceland.
Upon his return in 1756, he formed a sort of museum containing all of the objects of natural history he had brought back with him.
Taught a course in natural history (1756-88, 1795-1806). Appointed director of the museum of the prince de Condé in Chantilly. Published a two-volume study, Minérologie (1761-62). His Dictionnaire raisonné universel d’histoire naturel (5 vols., 1764) went through several editions and was one of the first works to make natural science accessible and intelligible to the public.
Member of the Academies of Clermont, Caen, and Rouen.