The Texas-born artist studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Academie Julian in Paris before making his way with his then-girlfriend and later wife, painter Susan Weil, to Black Mountain College in North Carolina to study under Josef Albers. Shortly thereafter he moved to New York, where he had his first solo show at Betty Parsons Gallery, selling only one painting, to John Cage.
Rauschenberg rapidly became famous for his all-black and all-white paintings, as well as his assemblages of found materials. In 1953, he made waves in the art world when he erased a de Kooning drawing. He was close with fellow artist Jasper Johns, with whom he lived in a series of lofts in lower Manhattan until the 1960s, the two often working together.
In 1964, he exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale, where he was the first modern American to win the international grand prize. His work was shown in major exhibitions at the Pompidou Center, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art during his lifetime.
Rauschenberg is survived by his companion, Darryl Pottorf, and his son with Susan Weil, Christopher.