Harold Harvey was born on 20 May 1874 in North Parade, Penzance, Cornwall, the eldest of eight children. His father was a bank clerk. Harvey trained in painting at the Penzance Art School under Norman Garstin, and attended the Academie Julian in Paris between 1894 and 1896.
Before the First World War (1914-18) his style was impressionistic and his works mostly depicted scenes of the local fishing and agricultural communities, such as In the Whiting Ground (c1900, now in Penlee House at Penzance). His work matured from about 1905 with brighter colours, and simpler compositions. He exhibited at the Newlyn Gallery and major provincial galleries, and had his first London show in 1913. From 1914 he created a long series of interior views, often set in his own home, and featuring his wife, friends and local people. These scenes are often painted in a crisper style than previously, and several include small still-lives of tableware. He was exempted from military service, presumably for reasons of health.
In the 1920s he achieved the full development of his ability and command of different subjects. Using a clearly-defined style of depiction he continued the series of interior views (eg 'The Critics' (1922) now at Birmingham), but he also created many notable outdoor scenes (eg 'Girl on a Cliff' (1926, now at Penleee House in Penzance) with either a landscape or seaside setting. He also began painting works with a religious theme. He achieved public recognition, and was selected to take part in the Venice Biennale of 1924. During the 1920s he ran a school of painting with his friend Ernest Procter (1886 – 1935).
Harvey's last decade displayed all the remarkable abilities he had developed, and the wide range of his subject matter which included interiors, portraits, landscapes, religious themes, and the industrial landscape of Cornwall. In 1938 he featured in an article in Picture Post about the artistic colony at Newlyn. He continued painting up to his death on 1May 1941.
He married Gertrude Bodinnar on 1April 1911 at St Peter's church, Newlyn, and they moved to Maen Cottage, high on Chywoone Hill overlooking Newlyn and Penzance. Gertrude herself became a painter, and took an active part in applied arts, particularly concerning fabrics. They had no children.