William Rothenstein

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Sir William Rothenstein
William Rothenstein photo by George Charles Beresford 1920.jpg
A portrait of William Rothenstein taken by George Charles Beresford in 1920
Born (1872-01-29)29 January 1872
Bradford, Yorkshire, England
Died 14 February 1945(1945-02-14) (aged 73)
London, England
Nationality British-Jewish
Education Slade School of Fine Art
Académie Julian
Known for Painting

Sir William Rothenstein (29 January 1872 – 14 February 1945) was an English painter, printmaker, draughtsman and writer on art. He is best known for his work as a war artist in both World Wars and as a portrait artist. More than 200 of his portraits of famous people are in the National Portrait Gallery collection. He co-founded the Carfax Gallery that held exhibitions of works of the Camden Town Group. Rothenstein was a Principal at the Royal College of Art from 1920 to 1935 and was knighted in 1931.

Personal life[edit]

Sir William Rothenstein, photo by George Charles Beresford, 1902

William Rothenstein was born into a German-Jewish family in Bradford, West Yorkshire. His father, Moritz, emigrated from Germany in 1859 to work in Bradford's burgeoning textile industry. Soon afterwards he married Bertha Dux and they had six children, of which William was the fifth.[1]

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.[2] Albert (1881–1953) was a painter, illustrator and costume designer.[3] Both brothers changed their surname to Rutherston during the First World War.[1]

He married Alice Knewstub in 1899[1] with whom they had four children: John, Betty, Rachel and Michael. John Rothenstein later gained fame as an art historian and art administrator (he was Director of the Tate Gallery from 1938 to 1964). He was knighted in 1952.[4] Michael Rothenstein was a talented printmaker.[5]

Education[edit]

Rothenstein left Bradford Grammar School at the age of sixteen to study at the Slade School of Art, London (1888–1893), where he was taught by Alphonse Legros, and the Académie Julian in Paris (1889–1893), where he met and was encouraged by James McNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.[6] Whilst in Paris he also befriended the Anglo-Australian artist Charles Conder, with whom he shared a studio in Montmartre.[1]

Career[edit]

Artist[edit]

Rothenstein's portrait drawing of Auguste Rodin

In 1893 he returned to England to work on "Oxford Characters" a series of lithographic portraits.[citation needed] In Oxford he met and became a close friend of the caricaturist and parodist Max Beerbohm, who later immortalised him in the short story Enoch Soames (1919). During the 1890s Rothenstein exhibited with the New English Art Club and contributed drawings to The Yellow Book and The Savoy (periodical). In 1900 he won a silver medal for his painting The Doll's House at the Exposition Universelle.[7][8]

Rothenstein is best known for his portrait drawings of famous individuals and for being an official war artist in both World War I and World War II.[7] The National Portrait Gallery owns over two hundred of his portraits.[9] His collections of portrait drawings include Oxford Characters (1896), English Portraits (1898), Twelve Portraits (1929) and Contemporaries (1937).[1]

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.[7][10][11][12]

Between 1902 and 1912 Rothenstein lived in Hampstead, London, where his social circle included such names as H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad and the artist Augustus John. Amongst the young artists to visit Rothenstein in Hampstead were Wyndham Lewis, Mark Gertler and Paul Nash.[7] During this period Rothenstein worked on a series of important paintings in the predominantly Jewish East End of London,[7] some of which were included in the influential 1906 exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquaries at the Whitechapel Gallery.[7] 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. Reminiscent of Dutch painting (particularly Vermeer and Rembrandt), they are similar in style to contemporary works by William Orpen, who became Rothenstein's brother-in-law in 1901, marrying Alice's sister Grace.[7][13] Other notable interiors include Spring, The Morning Room (c.1910) and Mother and Child, Candlight (c.1909).[14][15]

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 and Nandalal Bose making watercolor copies of the ancient frescoes. He subsequently contributed a chapter on their importance to the published edition. The trip ended with a stay in Calcutta, where he witnessed the attempts of Abanindranath Tagore to revive the techniques and aesthetics of traditional Indian painting.[16]

He was a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers.[7]

Carfax Gallery[edit]

In 1898 he co-founded the Carfax Gallery in St. James' Piccadilly with John Fothergill (later innkeeper of the Spread Eagle in Thame).[7] During its early years the gallery was closely associated with such artists as Charles Conder, Philip Wilson Steer, Charles Ricketts and Augustus John. It also exhibited the work of Auguste Rodin, whose growing reputation in England owed much to Rothenstein's friendship and missionary zeal.[7] The gallery was later the home for all three exhibitions of The Camden Town Group, led by Rothenstein's friend and close contemporary Walter Sickert.[17]

Royal College of Art[edit]

Rothenstein was Principal of the Royal College of Art from 1920 to 1935,[6] where he encouraged figures including Edward Burra, Evelyn Dunbar, U Ba Nyan and Henry Moore. Moore was 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'.[18]

Writer[edit]

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.[1] Men and Memories Volume I includes information on the writer Oscar Wilde and his friends.[19]

Recognition[edit]

Rothenstein was knighted in 1931.[citation needed] Rabindranath Tagore dedicated his Nobel Prize winner poetry collection Gitanjali to William Rothenstein.[20]

In 2011 the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation began cataloguing all of his paintings in public ownership online.[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Robert Speaight (1962). William Rothenstein: the Portrait of an Artist in his Time. Eyre & Spottiswoode. 
  2. ^ "Manchester City Galleries - History of the Collection". Manchestergalleries.org. 2006-06-22. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  3. ^ "Albert Rutherston". Oxforddnb.com. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  4. ^ Edward Chaney, "The Vasari of British Art: Sir John Rothenstein... and the Importance of Wyndham Lewis", Apollo, vol. CXXXII, no. 345 (November, 1990), pp. 322-26
  5. ^ Nicholas Usherwood, ‘Rothenstein, (William) Michael Francis (1908–1993)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 30 Jan 2014
  6. ^ a b "National Portrait Gallery - Person- Sir William Rothenstein". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/1106/1/EquivocalPositionsWilliamRothenstein.pdf
  8. ^ The Doll's House Tate.
  9. ^ "National Portrait Gallery - Portraits". Npg.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  10. ^ Parting at Morning (1891) Tate.
  11. ^ Mother and Child (1903). Tate.
  12. ^ Jews Mourning at a Synagogue (1907) Tate.
  13. ^ The Browning Readers (1900). Your Paintings. BBC.
  14. ^ Spring, The Morning Room. (c.1910) Your Paintings. BBC.
  15. ^ Mother and Child, Candlight (c.1909) Your Paintings. BBC.
  16. ^ Rupert Richard Arrowsmith, "An Indian Renascence and the rise of global modernism: William Rothenstein in India, 1910–11", The Burlington Magazine, vol.152 no.1285 (April 2010), pp.228-235.
  17. ^ Alan Wilkinson, ed. "Henry Moore: Writings and Conversation" University of California Press, 2002. p.47
  18. ^ Oscar Wilde Selected Letters, ed. Hart-Davis, R. Oxford, 1979, p105
  19. ^ Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore published by Macmillan
  20. ^ William Rothenstein. Your Paintings. BBC.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]