Levitan was born in 1860 in Kibarty, Lithuania. His father worked for a railroad company. From 1873 to 1885, Levitan went to school at the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow, Russia. He learned painting form the painters Savrasov and Polenov. Starting in 1884 his paintings went on display with the Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions. He became a member of the society in 1891. Levitan taught landscape painting at the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture starting in 1898. He died in Moscow in 1900.
In his career as a painter, Levitan painted many landscapes which were later thought of as masterpieces of Russian art. Levitan painted simple landscapes from Russia. Early in his career he painted scenes from around Moscow. Next he painted scenes from around the Volga River. His later paintings came from Vladimir, Vyshny Volochek, and the Tver region of Russia.