Born in Paisley in 1888, Robert Sivell studied at Glasgow School of Art, as well as in Paris and Florence. He worked for a time as an engineer in Canada and America, and later served in the Merchant Navy during the First World War.
In 1919 Sivell helped found the Glasgow Society of Painters and Sculptors with close friends Archibald McGlashan and James Cowie. After marrying Isobel Sayers in 1923 he moved to Kirkcudbright, where he lived at The Stell. He remained there until 1936, leaving to join the staff at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen where he was made Head of Painting. During his time in Aberdeen he regularly returned to Kirkcudbright and upon his retirement he moved back there permanently.
Sivell painted portraits and figures in oil and also large-scale murals. A collection of over 120 of his works are held in the collection at the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum and his best known work is the large mural, which decorates the Aberdeen University Student's Union.
Sivell was elected an ARSA in 193 and a member of RSA in 1943.