Herman van Swanevelt spent his career outside his native Holland. In Paris he painted his first signed and dated works in 1623. In 1629 he moved to Rome, where he painted many landscapes with biblical and mythological subjects. His usual compositional structure, derived from Cornelis van Poelenburgh's work, proved very popular with the Romans, and the Barberini family and the Vatican offered him commissions. Along with Claude Lorrain and others, he also painted landscapes for Philip IV's new Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid.
In the 1630s Swanevelt's landscapes made him an important link between early Dutch Italianate painters such as van Poelenburgh and Bartholomeus Breenbergh and the second generation Italianates such as Nicolaes Berchem. In 1641 he returned to Paris, where he remained except for occasional visits to his birthplace. He became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1651. He assisted in the decoration of the Hôtel Lambert and made numerous drawings and etchings.