Oskar Schmerling was born on July 1, 1863 in Stavropol into a family of German emigrants. His father, Ivan Schmerling, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army, and his uncle on mother’s side, Albert Salzmann, was an architect - he worked in Tiflis. Many buildings were erected according to his projects, as well as the palace, which nowadays houses the National Art Gallery of Georgia on Shota Rustaveli Avenue. Oskar grew up in Tiflis in the house of his uncle Albert. He received his primary education in Realschule. Being rather young, Schmerling manifested strong interest in decorative art. In 1880-1881, he was publishing his own cartoon newspaper “mosquito”. At the same time, he received his first professional experience - he made caricature and satirical illustrations for the periodical “Solifugae” published by Ivan Petroev. Schmerling later described his first professional experience as follows: “My cartoons rained down on the publisher's table like ripe fruit from a tree. As a rule, only a few were selected for publication; the rest went to rest in a huge, bottomless bag”. In 1884, Schmerling entered the faculty of graphic art in the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. While studying, he created graphic illustrations and cartoons for periodicals - for the Russian magazines "Son of the Motherland" and "Jester", as well as for the German magazine "Pipifax". After graduating in 1889, Schmerling spent a year in the city of Khankendi in Central Azerbaijan, where his father was on service at that time. In Khankendi, he founded a theater troupe that united local amateur actors. In 1891, he entered the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and studied battle painting for two years, a genre that German academies of the late 19th century were especially famous for. Schmerling combined his studies with work for a number of local periodicals - he illustrated the "People's Munich newspaper", created cartoons for the specialized magazine of cycling fans "Humor of cyclists".
After graduating from the Academy, he returned to Tiflis, where he spent the rest of his life, with the exception of a few business trips. Returning to his native city, he established himself as a talented teacher and mentor. Schmerling occupied a post of director of the school of painting and sculpture at the Caucasian Society for Fine Arts Encouragement, taught at the Transcaucasian Girls' Institute, gave many private lessons and took an active part in local art exhibitions. Soon after his return, he tried himself in illustrating monographic publications - he created images that adorned Georgian children's books and collections of fairy tales, among which the famous ABC-book "Mother Language" by Iakob Gogebashvili should be especially highlighted.
In the late Schmerling 1890s married. In 1901, Oscar Ivanovich and his wife, Anzhelika, had a daughter, Rene, who later became a famous art critic and a prominent specialist in ancient Georgian manuscript books. In 1906, the son Edgar was born in the family. During this period of his life, Schmerling was one of the founders of the Georgian school of caricature graphics. In 1901, he became the key illustrator of a weekly supplement to the new News bulletin by A. Jabadari, the first Georgian satirical publication that involved local painters. However, the heyday of his work is associated with the period following the revolution of 1905.
The first Russian revolution led, on the one hand, to the weakening of censorship, and on the other hand, to a special demand for political periodicals. Thus, in 1905-1907 in all corners of the Russian Empire, new newspapers and magazines were actively created. During this period, Schmerling illustrated many Caucasian publications, including the Georgian "Slingshot", "Labor", "The Devil's Scourge", "Georgia", the Russian-language "Caucasian Territory" and "Whistle", as well as the Azerbaijani colour magazine "Molla Nasraddin" and the Armenian magazine "Hatabala". In the 1910s, Schmerling also created a famous series of postcards depicting old Tiflis, many of which are presented in the museum Collection exposition.
After the 1917 revolution, Schmerling continued to teach and collaborate with periodicals. In 1920-1921, he lived in the city of Ganja in Azerbaijan, where he headed the art department of the People's Education Committee, ran the city's lithographic publishing house, and draw posters for the Azerbaijani branch of the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA). In 1921, he returned to Tiflis and remained in the capital of Georgia until the end of his life, despite the invitation to work in Baku and Ashgabat. In 1922, the Tiflis Academy of Arts was founded, where Schmerling held the position of professor. In the 1920s, Schmerling illustrated the Soviet-Georgian publications "Tartarozzi", "Crocodile" and the Azerbaijani magazine "New Thought". In 1925, he wrote to his colleague, Azerbaijani educator, publisher and writer Jalil Mammadguluzadeh, “I work a lot, even too much, as an employee of four publications, remaining grateful that my fate does not leave me unemployed”.
Schmerling continued to work actively until his death on January 2, 1938.