Shlomo-Zalman Dov-Baruch Schatz was born in 1867 in the town of Vorno (in present-day Latvia). His family, though poor, was distinguished, coming from a line of rabbis. At the age of fifteen he moved to Vilna (Vilnius) to study in a yeshivah, but his growing resistance to traditional Judaism eventually resulted in his total withdrawal from his studies. While still at the yeshivah he enrolled at the town's School of Drawing.
In 1888 Schatz moved to Warsaw. His conception of Jewish art was formed at this time and presented in an article he published at the age of twenty in the Hebrew-language newspaper Ha-Tzefirah. He believed that art should fulfill a moral, educational, and national role. Schatz's ideas on the subject took a more concrete form years later, in his own artwork and in the establishment of Bezalel.
In late 1889 Schatz moved to Paris, then the art capital of the world, where he worked at odd jobs, and even spent some time as a boxer.