Robert Hannaford was brought up on a farm at Riverton, and still lives in the area. He was political cartoonist for the Adelaide Advertiser from 1964 to 1967, winning the A.M.E. Bale Art Scholarship in 1969. He has been a full-time artist since 1973, working in oil, watercolour, charcoal, pencil and pen drawing, and in sculpture and prints. Hannaford has been a finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize Competitions, and was the winner in 1990. In addition, he has also been selected, on a number of occasions, as a finalist in the Archibald Prize, the nation's most prestigious art award; in 1994 he was the only finalist to have two portraits accepted. As well as being recognised for his portraits, he paints and exhibits a variety of other subjects, including landscapes and seascapes, still-life, and birds and animals.

Hannaford's technical excellence has developed over years of individualistic drawing, painting and sculpting. Nature has provided his inspiration with its qualities of form, light, tone and colour, which he transforms into his own art.
In his pursuit of realism, Hannaford would often go to hospitals and view the dissection of bodies. A study of anatomy books over several years also assisted his understanding of the mechanics of the human form. Hannaford was strongly impressed by the work of Hans Heysen (q. v.) and Ivor Hele (q. v.), the latter being a catalyst as well as mentor.

The influence ofHele's (q.v.) broad naturalistic style on Hannaford is shown in NUDE IN CHAIR, 1970, a balanced and confident work of a nude female curled against the outline of the arm of a chair. In striving for freshness in his work, Hannaford depicts reality without conditionsing and without pretensions.