He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Edinburgh University and in 1875 at the Royal Scottish Academy, being taught by McTaggart and Chalmers.
This was followed by a period spent in Paris studying with Carolus-Duran. Lorimer travelled throughout Spain, Italy and Algiers between 1877 and 1891. He exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1873 and at the Royal Academy from 1878.
His portraits included renditions of Lyon Playfair, Joseph Lister, Peter Hately Waddell and other luminaries of the era.
He showed 123 works at the Royal Scottish Academy and 43 works at the Royal Academy in London. In 1878 the Lorimer family acquired the lease of Kellie Castle in Fife and began its restoration for use as a holiday home.
This later became the permanent family home, after purchase in 1948 by Robert Lorimer"s son, the sculptor Hew Lorimer. John Henry Lorimer died at Gyles House, Pittenweem, Fife, on 4 November 1936.