Robert Lavin was born in New York City. His education included Townsend Harris, a prep school in New York followed by college at City College of New York. He also attended the National Academy of Art, where he studied as a painter. Studying the social realists of the 1930’s, Lavin, a former Marine pilot, portrayed steelworkers, roughnecks and trainmen. Lavin often painted his “proletarian ballets”- as one critic called them – to illustrate magazine advertisements.
The Smithsonian Institution and other museums collected Lavin’s original paintings, which portrayed the laboring subjects with dignity and integrity. Lavin also illustrated stock certificates and books. Paper Money magazine praised him as “one of the greatest vignette artists of the 20th century.” In addition to this, Lavin was for a number of years an Associate Professor of Art at City College of New York, a position he left in the mid ‘60’s in order to devote himself full time to his painting. His commissions took him around the world, from the North Sea to the coast of Africa, from the slopes of Alaska to the Sea of Japan. As part of a series for Gulf Oil, he painted the royal family of England for the opening of a new refinery in Wales. Another portrait of one of the early Americanastronauts, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Other major commissions during these years included Readers Digest books, Life magazine and Fortune magazine.