Born in Bialystok, Russia, (now northeastern Poland) Samuel Halpert emigrated to the United States in 1890 with his parents when he was age five. He was raised in the Lower East Side tenement area with other East European Jewish immigrants. One of his adult friends at that time was sculptor Jacob Epstein who took him to art museums, and encouraged his artistic talents and interests.
During the 1890s, he lived on and off in Paris. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York with J Carroll Beckwith, who raised funds to send Halpert to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts with Leon Bonnat. He also studied at the Academie Julian with Jean Paul Laurens, but left the school to "learn on the streets of Paris" and from the Old Masters in the Louvre.
He exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, a venue for modernist works. However, at this point in his career, he considered himself an impressionist combining influences of French Impressionism, James Whistler, Childe Hassam, and John Twachtmann.
Halpert became a pioneer of modern art in America, having been in Paris at a revolutionary time in the art world during the first decade of the 20th century. His painting was influenced by Paul Cezanne and the French avant-garde, and in adapting the French culture, he had an edge in that he, unlike most American artists, spoke and wrote French fluently. He formed close friendships with modernists Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Jean Metsinger, and some of the older artists including Henri Rousseau and Henri Matisse.
After about three years in Paris, he returned to New York, where he met Alfred Stieglitz and became exposed to the avant-garde activities of Stieglitz's Little Galleries of the Succession (291). He stayed in New York for less than a year before returning to Paris where he developed his own style that embodied Post-Impressionism and Fauvism.