Robert Bryden was born at Coylton, Ayrshire in 1865. He studied at the RSA and RA Schools in London and went on to travel in Italy and Spain, sketching as he went. Eventually he returned to settle in Ayrshire where he produced a vast amount of work in a variety of media. Local scenes and people were his main subjects and his work thus provides a valuable historical resource for the south-west.
Bryden's father David was a colliery manager but Robert was never destined to follow in his footsteps. After attending school at Coylton and Ayr Academy he initially went to work in an architect's office - Morris and Hunter of Ayr. It seems he was not there very long before leaving to study at the Schools of the Royal College of Arts and Royal Academy of Arts in London.
When Bryden returned to Ayrshire after his travels in Spain and Italy, he undertook a series of etchings illustrating the poems of Robert Burns. He valued the history and culture of Ayrshire highly and was very keen to ensure that it was not forgotten. He produced several series' of prints featuring sites around Ayrshire that were linked with the regions key figures such as Burns, including his set of thirteen Picture Cards of Ayrshire and Ayrshire Monuments, published as a book. In the Foreword of this latter publication he stated his hope to encourage others to "cherish jealously all those records of the past, that to future generations they may act as incentives to exertion."
It was not only Ayrshire's historical figures that interested Bryden, he spent much time sketching Ayr's ordinary folk as well as portraits of the region's more famous faces such as George Douglas Brown, author of 'The House with the Green Shutters'.
Bryden produced a vast number of etchings during his career but he also worked with the printmaking processes of mezzotint, drypoint and woodcut. He also painted but towards the end of his career it was sculpture that became his main focus, working on wood carvings and bronze memorial panels.