William Rothenstein
Sir William Rothenstein (29 January 1872 – 14 February 1945) was an English painter
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

, draughtsman and writer on art.

Life and work

William Rothenstein was born into a German-Jewish family in Bradford
Bradford lies at the heart of the City of Bradford, a metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire, in Northern England. It is situated in the foothills of the Pennines, west of Leeds, and northwest of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897...

, West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire is a metropolitan county within the Yorkshire and the Humber region of England with a population of 2.2 million. West Yorkshire came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972....

. His father, Moritz, emigrated from Germany in 1859 to work in Bradford's burgeoning textile industry
Textile industry
The textile industry is primarily concerned with the production of yarn, and cloth and the subsequent design or manufacture of clothing and their distribution. The raw material may be natural, or synthetic using products of the chemical industry....

. Soon afterwards he married Bertha Dux and they had six children, of which William was the fifth.

Rothenstein left Bradford Grammar School
Bradford Grammar School
Bradford Grammar School is a co-educational, independent school in Frizinghall, Bradford, West Yorkshire. Headmaster, Stephen Davidson is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference . The school was founded in 1548 and granted its Charter by King Charles II in 1662...

 at the age of sixteen to study at the Slade School of Art, London (1888–1893), where he was taught by Alphonse Legros
Alphonse Legros
Alphonse Legros , painter, etcher and sculptor was born in Dijon. His father was an accountant, and came from the neighbouring village of Véronnes....

, and the Académie Julian
Académie Julian
The Académie Julian was an art school in Paris, France.Rodolphe Julian established the Académie Julian in 1868 at the Passage des Panoramas, as a private studio school for art students. The Académie Julian not only prepared students to the exams at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, but offered...

 in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 (1889–1893), where he met and was encouraged by James McNeill Whistler
James McNeill Whistler
James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake". His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger...

, Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas[p] , born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist...

 and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Whilst in Paris he also befriended the Anglo-Australian artist Charles Conder
Charles Conder
Charles Edward Conder was an English-born painter, lithographer and designer. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.-Early life:Conder was born in Tottenham, Middlesex, the second son,...

, with whom he shared a studio in Montmartre. In 1893 he returned to England to work on "Oxford Characters" a series of lithographic portraits.

In Oxford he met and became a close friend of the caricaturist
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

 and parodist
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 Max Beerbohm
Max Beerbohm
Sir Henry Maximilian "Max" Beerbohm was an English essayist, parodist and caricaturist best known today for his 1911 novel Zuleika Dobson.-Early life:...

, who later immortalised him in the short story Enoch Soames
Enoch Soames
Enoch Soames is a short story by the British writer Max Beerbohm. It appeared in the collection Seven Men and was originally published in the May 1916 edition of The Century Magazine. It is well-known for its clever and humorous use of the ideas of time travel and pacts with the Devil...

 (1919). During the 1890s Rothenstein exhibited with the New English Art Club
New English Art Club
The New English Art Club was founded in London in 1885 as an alternate venue to the Royal Academy.-History:Young English artists returning from studying art in Paris mounted the first exhibition of the New English Art Club in April 1886...

 and, in 1900, won a silver medal for his painting The Doll's House at the Exposition Universelle. In 1898 he co-founded the Carfax Gallery in St. James' Piccadilly with John Fothergill
John Fothergill
John Fothergill may refer to:*John Fothergill , English physician and botanist*John Fothergill , English merchant*John Milner Fothergill...

. During its early years the gallery was closely associated with such artists as Charles Conder
Charles Conder
Charles Edward Conder was an English-born painter, lithographer and designer. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.-Early life:Conder was born in Tottenham, Middlesex, the second son,...

, Philip Wilson Steer
Philip Wilson Steer
Philip Wilson Steer OM was a British painter of landscape and occasional portraits and figure studies. He was a leading figure in the Impressionist movement in Britain.-Life and work:...

, Charles Ricketts
Charles Ricketts
Charles de Sousy Ricketts was a versatile English artist, illustrator, author and printer, and is best known for his work as book designer and typographer from 1896 to 1904 with the Vale Press, and his work in the theatre as a set and costume designer.-Life and career:Ricketts was born in Geneva...

 and Augustus John
Augustus John
Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the United Kingdom....

. It also exhibited the work of Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin , known as Auguste Rodin , was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past...

, whose growing reputation in England owed much to Rothenstein's friendship and missionary zeal. The gallery was later the home for all three exhibitions of The Camden Town Group
Camden Town Group
The Camden Town Group was a group of English Post-Impressionist artists active 1911-1913. They gathered frequently at the studio of painter Walter Sickert in the Camden Town area of London.-History:...

, led by Rothenstein's friend and close contemporary Walter Sickert
Walter Sickert
Walter Richard Sickert , born in Munich, Germany, was a painter who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century....


Rothenstein is best known for his portrait drawings of famous individuals and for being an official war artist in both World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. He was also a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters & Gravers. The style and subject of his paintings varies, though certain themes reappear, in particular an interest in 'weighty' or 'essential' subjects tackled in a restrained manner. Good examples include Parting at Morning (1891), Mother and Child (1903) and Jews Mourning at a Synagogue (1907) - all of which are owned by the Tate Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery owns over two hundred of his portraits. In 2011 the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation began cataloguing all of his paintings in public ownership online.

Between 1902 and 1912 Rothenstein lived in Hampstead
Hampstead is an area of London, England, north-west of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden in Inner London, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland...

, London, where his social circle included such names as H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

, Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was a Polish-born English novelist.Conrad is regarded as one of the great novelists in English, although he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties...

 and the artist Augustus John
Augustus John
Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the United Kingdom....

. Amongst the young artists to visit Rothenstein in Hampstead were Mark Gertler and Paul Nash
Paul Nash
Paul Nash is the name of:* Paul Nash , British artist* Paul Nash , South African sprinter* Paul Nash , Jamaican Sportsperson of the Year 1969, Father of Brendan Nash...

. During this period Rothenstein worked on a series of important paintings in the predominantly Jewish East End of London
East End of London
The East End of London, also known simply as the East End, is the area of London, England, United Kingdom, east of the medieval walled City of London and north of the River Thames. Although not defined by universally accepted formal boundaries, the River Lea can be considered another boundary...

., some of which were included in the influential 1906 exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquaries at the Whitechapel Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
The Whitechapel Gallery is a public art gallery on the north side of Whitechapel High Street, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, it was founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly-funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, and it has a long...

. Despite this, Rothenstein is rarely considered as a major Anglo-Jewish artist.

Another feature of this period are the celebrated interiors he painted, the most famous of which is The Browning Readers (1900), now owned by Cartwright Hall Gallery, Bradford. Most of Rothenstein's interiors feature members of his family, especially his wife Alice (nee Knewstub) who he married in 1899. They are similar in style to contemporary works by William Orpen
William Orpen
Major Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, KBE, RA, RHA was an Irish portrait painter, who worked mainly in London...

, who became Rothenstein's brother-in-law in 1901, marrying Alice's sister Grace. Other notable interiors include Spring, The Morning Room (c.1910) and Mother and Child, Candlight (c.1909).

Rothenstein maintained a lifelong fascination for Indian sculpture and painting, and in 1910 set out on a seminal tour of the subcontinent's major artistic and religious sites. This began with a visit to the ancient Buddhist caves of Ajanta, where he observed Lady Christiana Herringham
Christiana Herringham
Christiana Jane Herringham was a British artist, copyist and art patron. She is noted for her part in establishing the National Art Collections Fund in 1903 to help preserve Britain's artistic heritage....

 and Nandalal Bose
Nandalal Bose
Nandalal Bose was a notable Indian painter of Bengal school of art. A pupil of Abanindranath Tagore, Bose was known for "Indian style" of painting. He became the principal of Kala Bhawan, Shanti Niketan in 1922...

 making watercolor copies of the ancient frescoes; and ended with a stay in Calcutta
Kolkata , formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, it was the commercial capital of East India...

, where he witnessed the attempts of Abanindranath Tagore
Abanindranath Tagore
Abanindranath Tagore was the principal artist of the Bengal school and the first major exponent of swadeshi values in Indian art. He was also a noted writer, particularly for children...

 to revive the techniques and aesthetics of traditional Indian painting.

Rothenstein was Principal of the Royal College of Art
Royal College of Art
The Royal College of Art is an art school located in London, United Kingdom. It is the world’s only wholly postgraduate university of art and design, offering the degrees of Master of Arts , Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy...

 from 1920 to 1935, where he encouraged figures including Edward Burra
Edward Burra
Edward Burra was an English painter, draughtsman, and printmaker, best known for his depictions of the urban underworld, black culture and the Harlem scene of the 1930s....

, U Ba Nyan and Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Spencer Moore OM CH FBA was an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art....

. Moore was to later to write that Rothenstein 'gave me the feeling that there was no barrier, no limit to what a young provincial student could get to be and do'. His collections of portrait drawings include Oxford Characters (1896), English Portraits (1898), Twelve Portraits (1929) and Contemporaries (1937). He wrote several critical books and pamphlets, including Goya (1900; the first English monograph on the artist), A Plea for a Wider Use of Artists & Craftsmen (1916) and Whither Painting (1932). During the 1930s he published three volumes of memoirs: Men and Memories, Vol I and II and Since Fifty. Rothenstein was knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

ed in 1931.

Rothenstein had four children: John, Betty, Rachel and Michael. John Rothenstein
John Rothenstein
Sir John Knewstub Maurice Rothenstein CBE was an English art historian. He grew up in London the son of Sir William Rothenstein. The family was loosely connected to the Bloomsbury Set. John Rothenstein studied at Oxford University and became friends with T. E. Lawrence...

 later gained fame as an art historian and art administrator (he was Director of the Tate Gallery
Tate Gallery
The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art...

 from 1938 to 1964). Michael Rothenstein
Michael Rothenstein
William Michael Rothenstein RA was an English printmaker, painter and art teacher.-Early life:Born in Hampstead, London, on 19 March 1908, he was the youngest of four children born to the celebrated artist, Sir William Rothenstein and his wife, Alice Knewstub.-Art:He was home schooled and studied...

, whose divorce from Duffy Ayers
Duffy Ayers
Duffy Ayers is an English portrait painter.She was one of a pair of identical twin girls born to her American mother and Irish father, and has been known for most of her life by the nickname "Duffy"....

 caused a major controversy in British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 society, was a talented printmaker.

William's two brothers, Charles and Albert, were also heavily involved in the arts. Charles (1866–1927), who followed his father into the wool trade, was an important collector - and left his entire collection to the Manchester City Art Gallery in 1925. Albert (1881–1953) was a painter, illustrator and costume designer. Both brothers changed their surname to Rutherston during the First World War.
Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore , sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature and music. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European Nobel laureate by earning the 1913 Prize in Literature...

 dedicated his Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 winner poetry collection Gitanjali
Gitanjali is a collection of 103 English poems, largely translations, of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.This volume became very famous in the West, and was widely translated....

to William Rothenstein.

Further reading

  • Lago, Mary, and Karl Beckson, eds. Max and Will: Max Beerbohm and William Rothenstein, their friendship and letters, 1893-1945. (1975).
  • Lago, Mary. Imperfect Encounter: Letters of William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore (1972)
  • Rothenstein, John. Summer's Lease: Autobiography 1901-1938 (1965)
  • Rothenstein, William. Men and Memories, Vols I and II (1931-2)
  • Rothenstein, William. Since Fifty (1939)
  • Speaight, R. William Rothenstein: The Portrait of an Artist in his Time (1962)

External links

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