Until photography lured him in 1851, Robert Macpherson enjoyed a socially active career as a painter, journalist, and art dealer. A tall, gregarious redhead described as "gifted with that rare endowment, the art of pleasing," the Scottish Macpherson cut a striking figure wearing a kilt on the streets of Rome, where he had moved for his health around 1840. He became a commercial photographer and opened a shop in Rome, from which he sold prints.
Macpherson, however, had some higher aspirations for the medium, as he listed himself as "Artist photographer" in a studio guide of 1858. Although he remained in Rome, he was an active member of the Photographic Society of Scotland. Tourists from Britain and the Americas bought many copies of architectural studies and romantic landscapes of Italy from his shop. The 1860s brought him financial and health problems, and he died in 1872.