Yelena Polenova was born in St. Petersburg and was Vasily Polenov's sister.

She took private classes in Paris and at the Drawing School of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists (1864–1880, with breaks). Polenova was a graphic artist, a painter, a decorative art designer and an illustrator. She was a member of the Moscow Society of Art Lovers (since 1884), the Moscow Fellowship of Artists (since 1893). Polenova was a participant of the Abramtsevo Colony since 1882.

In 1880–1890s, she stayed in Abramtsevo for a long time, painted water colour landscapes, collected folk art items, illustrated fairy tales, created costumes for the amateur performances. In 1885–1892, Polenova headed the work at the Abramtsevo joinery and made more than 100 sketches for furniture and other utensils. Nowadays the Museum boasts of the graphic works by Yelena Polenova and items of the Abramtsevo workshops made to her design.