Wytsman was born in the Belgian town of Termonde in a sophisticated middle-class family. His father used to receive writers, artists and politicians in their home to discuss contemporary classic and avant-garde art currents.
At the age of 11 young Wytsman decided to study antique sculpture at the Academy in Ghent. His teacher Capeininck was not convinced of his talent and made him quit the class. After three years of work in a textile shop, Wytsman decided to get back to art classes and has followed successfully painting as well as drawing lessons at the Academy in Ghent and then in Brussels. He found however the academic access to art somewhat restricted because it limited him to copies of antique nudes and compositions arranged inside the workshop. He was more attracted to plein-air painting: landscapes featuring the banks of the river Lys or fields in the shade of orchards.
From 1882 to 1883 he was granted the opportunity to travel through Italy. As many generations of painters before, Wytsman was instantly struck by the warm tonalities and the luminosity under the sunshiny Italian sky. Upon his return in 1883 he exposed with the Groupe des XX where his style clearly departed from the sombre Flemish painting tradition and his paintings showed a shift towards a brighter palette and higher luminosity. He applied his colours with a palette knife, giving the canvases a certain structure.
In 1886 the young painter married Juliette Trullemans. Together with his wife - a painter of flowers - he wondered through the green outskirts of Brussels, La Hulpe and the wood of Soignes, in search for motives. The exposition of the French Neo-Impressionists in 1887 has provoked a change of technique in Wytsman’s oeuvre. He instantly abandoned the use of the palette knife and opted for a more delicate brush stroke. The latter was more adapted for presentations of the vibrating atmosphere in his landscapes.
In 1892 the young couple moved to a small country house in Linkebeek, close to Brussels. They continued to travel throughout Belgium, visiting the banks of the river Maas, the cities of Profondeville, Yvoir and Dave. As the First World War began, they were forced to leave Belgium and to settle in Netherlands. In Dutch villages like Overschie, Bergplaats, Oisterwyk and Mook they have found motives that resembled closely the home they left behind with its moor landscapes and the pine tree woods. During their stay in Netherlands, Rodolphe organised meetings with his exiled fellow Belgian painters and encouraged them to expose their works.
After the war, the couple moved back to Linkebeek where they stayed artistically active until the death of Wytsman in 1927