Robert Vonnoh was born in Hartford, Connecticut to German immigrants. His father, a cabinetmaker, moved the family to Boston in 1861 before being drafted into service during the Civil War, service from which he would not return. Robert attended grammar school and later took art classes in Boston, and by the end of the 1870s he was teaching art and working professionally as an artist. Teaching at the Boston Free Evening Drawing Schools and at Thayer Academy helped finance an initial trip to Paris. He studied at the Académie Julian and by the 1890s was taking up color and an open brush stroke as his tools of expression. He taught at the Pennsylvania Academy and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and joined the National Academy, serving as an ambassador of French Impressionism to an increasingly receptive American audience.