After a brief and unsuccessful attempt to work with his father as a coal dealer, Minor began studying painting in New York under Alfred C. Howland, a teacher who knew several of the Barbizon artists firsthand. In the mid-sixties, Minor went to Europe to continue his training, remaining for almost ten years. After some experimentation in Paris, he joined the artists' colony at Barbizon, where he was a disciple of Narcisse Diaz. He subsequently studied at the Antwerp Academy in Belgium under Joseph van Luppen. Minor traveled extensively in Germany and Italy, and spent two years painting landscapes in the south of England. He exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1872 and at the Royal Academy and the Grosvenor Gallery in London before returning to the United States in the mid-seventies. Back in New York City, Minor opened a studio on Washington Square. He spent many seasons painting in northern New York, especially at Keene Valley in the Adirondacks, before he settled in Waterford, Connecticut, not far from New Haven. Elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1888, Minor was made a full academician in 1897.
According to Eugen Neuhaus, Minor lived in Barbizon for three years, although, like many facts surrounding Minor's career, this information is difficult to verify. Minor's most frequent subjects were interior forest scenes treated in a manner first developed by Rousseau and Diaz in the 1840s. October [SAAM, 1953.3.7] is probably a view of the Fontainebleau forest, a likelihood enhanced by comparison with a similar work now in the Yale University collection, the title of which refers specifically to that site. Ahtough primarily a painter of small bucolic "cabinet pieces," Minor amply demonstrated in A Hillside Pasture [SAAM, 1909.7.47] that he could also handle larger, more ambitious canvases. Nevertheless, despite several comparisons in his lifetime to George Inness, there is little evidence to indicate the Minor was able or willing—as Inness was—to develop a mode of expression sufficiently apart from the Barbizon manner to define a style peculiarly his own.
Peter Bermingham American Art in the Barbizon Mood (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975)
Robert C. Minor was inspired by the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, who was a leading figure in the French Barbizon school. In the 1870s, Minor traveled extensively around Europe and experimented with painting en plein air (in the open air). He later settled in New York, where he gained recognition as a full academician at the National Academy of Design.