Robert Spencer was born in Harvard, Nebraska in 1879. After briefly studying medicine, he moved to New York to pursue a career in art. Spencer first studied art at the National Academy of Design from 1899 to 1901 under Francis C Jones and R. Blum. He continued his studies at The New York School of Design with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. In 1906, he moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There he studied with renowned painter, Daniel Garber. He would live and work in Pennsylvania for the next twenty five years.
Robert Spencer’s career had its first big success in 1914 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased one of his early canvases. Another important success for his career was when Duncan Phillips, the well known collector, took an interest in his work and purchased eight canvases that are now part of the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
As a landscape painter of urban life, he studied the changing ways of life in American cities during the early twentieth century. As a New Hope impressionist, Robert Spencer favored painting the local architecture and people in his paintings. He believed that a painting without people was a very lonely scene. In 1925 and 1927, Spencer traveled to France, Italy and Spain and as a result of the influences he found there, his later works turned to religious themes. Late in his career, Spencer’s work became looser and more spontaneous similar to modernist ideas.
During Spencer’s career, he won many awards, including the Inness Medal from the National Academy of Design in 1914, the Sesnan Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1914, the Gold Medal from the San Francisco Pan Pacific Exposition in 1915 and the Isidor Gold Medal from the National Academy of Design in 1928. Robert Spencer was elected an Associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1914 and Academician by 1920.
Robert Spencer suffered several nervous breakdowns before committing suicide in 1931, at the age of 59. Today, Spencer’s art is part of important private and public collections including The Smithsonian Art Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Princeton Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, The Phillips Collection, The National Academy Museum, NYC and The Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago.