Altoon Sultan was born in Brooklyn, not far from Coney Island. She was educated in the borough, getting her BA and MFA degrees from Brooklyn College, where she studied with Philip Pearlstein and Lois Dodd. Summer painting programs at Tanglewood and Skowhegan encouraged her to take her art work seriously. Her first painting exhibitions, in 1971 and 1973, were at a co-op gallery in Soho, but soon she was represented by the prestigious Marlborough Gallery, where she had her first show in 1977. She went on to have many solo shows in NYC, at Marlborough and at Tibor de Nagy and throughout the United States over more than 30 years. She is currently represented in New York City by McKenzie Fine Art. Altoon's work has been included in numerous group shows including many at museums such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Philbrook Museum of Art, the Hood Museum, the Fleming Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Altoon's awards include two National Endowment for the Arts grants, an Academy Award in Art from the American Academy, and a medal for painting from the National Academy of Design, where she was elected a member in 1995. Her work is in many museum collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Yale University Art Gallery; the Library of Congress; and the Fleming Museum of the University of Vermont.
Wanting to share her love of egg tempera paint, Altoon wrote an instructional book on the medium, The Luminous Brush, which was published in 1999 and is currently available at Google Books. She now paints exclusively in that medium. More recent additions to her body of work are abstractly designed wall textiles using the traditional technique of rug hooking, prints using cardboard and potatoes, drawings based on Islamic design, small drawings, and small boxed paintings. She has also written a blog, Studio and Garden, which attempted to integrate her daily life on a beautiful old former hill farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where she's lived since 1994, with her art work and her musings on the arts, on nature, and on some of life's questions.