Michaud, a native of Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva, emigrated to Brazil at the age of nineteen, landing at Rio de Janeiro on 1 February 1849. On arrival Michaud's first employment was at a silk-worm farm but he was soon employed by a local French engineer who needed a draftsman to record the topography of the provinces of Goiás and Minas. By 1852 he had settled in the Swiss colony at Superagui, on the Atlantic coast south-west of Sao Paolo, which was then under the control of Swiss Consul-General Charles Perret-Gentil. He found the life of a coffee planter extremely agreeable. Leaving his wife and children to run his plantation, he devoted himself to studying the peoples, fauna and flora of the Brazilian coast and to the vivid watercolors which he sent home with his lengthy letters to his sisters in Switzerland. Despite ill-health and the troubles that followed the abdication of the Emperor in 1889, Michaud refused to return to Europe. He died in Brazil in 1902.
A collection of 73 letters and 76 drawings and watercolors were donated to the Musée Historique de Vevey in 1922 by one of Michaud's sisters, Nancy Monnerat-Michaud, and formed the basis for an exhibition at the museum on the centenary of his death (M. Guisan and F. Lambert, William Michaud (1829-1902), Lettres, dessins et aquarelles d'un imigrant vaudois au Brasil, exhib. cat., Vevey, Musée Historique, 2002).
Another jungle scene by the artist was sold at Christie's, London, 3 July 2007, lot 161.