Born in Wales, Robert Harris was raised on Prince Edward Island. He received his first training in Boston, then studied art in London and Paris and became a renowned illustrator and portrait painter. When he returned to Canada, he settled in Toronto, then the principal art centre in Canada. He returned to Prince Edward Island often. Robert Harris was known not only for his portraits, but also for his images of local life on Prince Edward Island.
Harris painted many small landscapes and scenes of colonial experience. These works were in a narrative style of painting called genre painting. Using this style, which was very popular in the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe, painters such as Harris explored the Canadian landscape around them for subjects. He recorded places and painted the people of Prince Edward Island at work and at play.