He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to William P. Chambers (1827 - 1911), a famous lawyer, and Caroline Chambers (née Boughton), a direct descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, Massachusetts. Robert's brother was Walter Boughton Chambers, the world famous architect.
Robert entered the Art Students' League at around the age of twenty, where the artist Charles Dana Gibson was his fellow student. Chambers studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and at Julian's, in Paris from 1886 to 1893, and his work was displayed at the Salon as early as 1889. On his return to New York, he succeeded in selling his illustrations to Life, Truth, and Vogue magazines. Then, for reasons unclear, devoted his time to writing, producing his first novel, In the Quarter (1864). His most famous effort has to be The King in Yellow, a collection of weird fiction short stories, connected by the theme of a terrible play (to which the title refers) which drives those who read it insane.
Apparently favouring sales and popularity over artistic merit, Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers was one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines.
"Chambers is like Rupert Hughes and a few other fallen Titans - equipped with the right brains and education but wholly out of the habit of using them."
Frederic Taber Cooper commented,
"So much of Chambers's work exasperates, because we feel that he might so easily have made it better."