Born in Edinburgh, Roberts was appointed a scene-painter in the Theater Royal in Glasgow in 1818, where he saw work by Alexander Nasmyth. In 1822 he exhibited three oils at the Edinburgh Institution. In 1822 he moved to London and by 1830 he was painting large canvases seriously and worked exclusively as an artist. Robert's experiences in the theatre influenced his work, he was able to grasp complex perspective and create architectural space effectively. Latterly he traveled extensively, in Spain, Tangiers and the Middle East.