Fred Robertson, like his more famous older sister, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, was born on a farm northeast of Albany, New York, and grew up in relative poverty. While attending the district school, he earned extra money as a farmhand. Without the benefit of high school, he managed, at the age of twenty-three, to enter and ultimately graduate from Cornell Agricultural College. He taught school for a time, but in 1920 he bought a 300-acre farm in Savannah, New York, producing wheat, produce, and dairy products.
Around 1943, when his two sons began helping him work the farm, he had more free time and, encouraged by his sister, Robertson tried his hand at painting. This activity, taken up as a hobby, turned into a passion, and for the rest of his life Robertson devoted many hours to art. While he had picked up some technical tips from Anna Mary–using fairly dry oil paint on boards, rather than canvas–his style differed greatly from hers. His brushstrokes were stronger and bolder, his palette more somber, his subject matter less lyrical. In his landscapes, he documented life on the farm in a matter-of-fact manner, including numerous old-time vehicles and customs. In total, he completed about two hundred paintings.
Robertson had a one-man show at Galerie St. Etienne in 1945, which generated much interest and critical success. His works later appeared in group shows in New York and nationwide.