Born in San Francisco, California, Robert Aitken first started painting as a pupil of Arthur Mathews and Douglas Tilden at the Mark Hopkins Institute. By the time he was eighteen, he had his own studio. In 1897, he studied briefly in Paris, where influences turned him to sculpture. He taught at the Hopkins Institute until 1904 and won some of the premier sculpture commissions including monuments to the Navy and to President McKinley in Golden Gate Park. In 1904, he returned to Paris for three more years and then settled in New York City where he was a long-time teacher at the National Academy of Design.