After graduating from seconday school in 1912 Ernst Geitlinger moved to New York with his parents. He decided to become a stage painter and enrolled at the "Academy of Design". From 1914 the artist worked as a drawing teacher at the painting school of gallery owner Puzzi Hanfstaengel. In 1922 Ernst Geitlinger went to Munich and enrolled at the "Akademie der Künste" to study painting under Carl Kaspar. In 1931, the artist left the academy and during the following years contributed to exhibitions of the "Deutscher Künstlerbund", the "Neue Sezession" and the "Juryfreien".
During the Nazi regime Geitlinger was banned from exhibiting as his art was considered "degenerate", his attempts to emigrate to the USA, the Soviet Union and Colombia failed and the artist retreated into inner emigration. After the war Ernst Geitlinger contributed to art and exhibitions in Germany and was one of the co-founders of the Munich artists' association "Neue Gruppe" in 1946.
In 1950 the Munich artists' associations took over the management of exhibitions at the "Haus der Kunst" and Ernst Geitlinger played an important role in promoting abstract painting. In the winter semester of 1951-52 Ernst Geitlinger was appointed professor of painting and graphic arts at the Munich academy, where he worked until he turned seventy.
Subsequently he founded a private painting school at Kurfürstenstraße 1 in Munich, which turned into a popular meeting place for his students and a center of intellectual and artistic exchange. Ernst Geitlinger died on March 28, 1977 in his house in Seeshaupt at Lake Starnberg aged 77.
Geitlinger's work reflects the development of art in the 20th century. It ranges from "Neue Sachlichkeit" to the lively "Lyricism" of the 1930s and 1040s, from the strict structured compositions of the 1950s to analyses of the relationship between space and surface.