Theodore Robinson was born in June 1852, in Irasburg, Vermont. Robinson studied briefly in Chicago. By 22 years old he traveled to New York City in order to study at the Art Student Lague and the National Academy of Design.
Two years later, in 1876, he went to Paris, where he studied under Carolus-Duran and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, under Jean-Léon Gérôme. Robinson's first exhibition at the salon was in 1877. After visiting Bologna and Venice, he returned to the United States, soon moving to New York and becoming a professional art teacher and painter. During this period, his painting was rather realistic, although made with loose brushstrokes they could not yet be considered Impressionist.
With 32 years of age, Robinson returned to France, where he would live for the next eight years, visiting the U.S. occasionally. Mainly under Claude Monet's influence, Giverny became a center for French Impressionists and Robinson would eventually gravitate towards there. Scholars are uncertain when Robinson and Monet met, however, by 1888, their friendship was so that Robinson moved next door to the famous Impressionist. Although several American artists gathered at Giverny, Robinson was the closest to Monet, and they would even exchange advice on each other's ongoing productions. This period was when Robinson produced some of his finest artworks, according to many art historians. The paintings were made in plein air tradition, often depicting the surrounding countryside under several different kinds of weather. An example of this period's production is La Debacle. Although he meant to return, Robinson left France and his friend Monet for the last time, in 1892.
Back in the United States, Robinson taught in many institutions, such as the Brooklyn Art School, the Evelyn College in Princeton and later Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Since he was based in New York, Robinson was among a growing number of American painters interested in pursuing Impressionism. Amongst others, Robinson was especially close to Julian Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman.
Although Robinson had a robust reputation as an American Impressionist, he still needed to teach in order to support himself, causing him to doubt the quality of his own artwork.
In 1895, Robinson had a prolific period in Vermont, and during the next year, he would write to Monet about his intentions of returning to Giverny. Sadly, two months later, Robinson died of a severe asthma attack in New York City, when he was only 43 years old. Robinson's memory survives through his paintings, which are in the collections of several important museums like the Met, in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.