Born in Rotterdam, Holland in 1832, de Haas enrolled as a student of Louis Meijirís at the Rotterdam Academy. Later, at age 25, he was selected as the official artist for the Royal Dutch Navy. Painting in both oils and watercolors, he became known for his seascape and shore views of French, Dutch and British coastal areas.
With his strong artistic background in the Dutch Marine painting techniques, he immigrated to America in 1859 where he achieved prominence painting scenes of the coastal maritime activities of New York and Boston. He became an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1863 and a Full Member in 1867. He exhibited with the Academy until his death in 1895.
During the American Civil War de Haas was commissioned by Admiral David Farragut to document important naval battles. He later exhibited widely both in America and Europe, becoming one of the most important and influential sea painters to emerge from the American School of 19th Century marine artists. His excellence in portraying mood with the changing light and time of day is rivaled only by very few such as William Bradford and Fitz Hugh Lane.