Gotlib was born into a middle-class family in Kraków, where he gained his earliest artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow from 1908 to 1910. He continued his artistic training at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna (1911–13) and later at the Munich Academy of Fine Art under Angelo Jank (1913–14). It was during this period that he was exposed to European Expressionist masters, falling under the influence of expressionists like Max Beckmann and Egon Schiele.
During his lifetime, Gotlib exhibited extensively throughout Europe with much success. His first one-man show in Warsaw in 1918 was organised by the Society of Polish Artists whom he joined at the end of World War I. The following year, Gotlib returned to Krakow and became a leading member of the Polish avant-garde ‘Formist’ movement, exhibiting in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. In 1922, the Van Gogh Gallery in Amsterdam held a one-man exhibition of his work.
With the outbreak of World War II shortly after this, Gotlib settled in England, where he remained until his death. During his first year in England, Gotlib was invited to join the London Group, which had no foreign members at that time. This was a great honour, indeed an indication of his prolific talent as a painter
In 1964, he was included in the exhibition ‘Fifty years of British Art’ at the Tate Gallery. Indeed, his contribution to British art is well-known. In The Burlington Magazine in 1942, Tancred Borenius wrote: “A highly personal sense of colour in a lovely, luminous totality gives the keynote to his art”
Gotlib died in Godstone, Surrey, England, at the age of 76. After his death he was acknowledged with an important Arts Council retrospective exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, in July and August 1970, curated by Douglas Hall. This major exhibition toured to the Southampton Art Gallery, September 1970; and the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, October–November 1970. Another major retrospective of his work took place in 1980 at the National Museum, Warsaw, Poland.