Robert Alexander was born in Dalgarven, near Kilwinning in Ayrshire in 1840. He was apprenticed to a house-painter in Irvine who also painted landscapes. Subsequently, he obtained a position in the workshops of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh. He turned to easel painting and shortly after 1868, the year of his debut at the Royal Scottish Academy, he adopted painting as his full-time profession. He chose domestic animals as subjects, chiefly horses and dogs, and painted them with understanding and rare artistic skill. His work occupies an exceptional place in Scottish animal painting. He was elected A.R.S.A. in 1878 and R.S.A. in 1888, and was also a member of the Scottish Watercolour Society.