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Rothenstein, Sir William


ROTHENSTEIN, SIR WILLIAM (1872–1945), British painter. Rothenstein was a distinguished English impressionist and an outstanding teacher. Born in Bradford, England, the son of a German-born businessman, Rothenstein was educated at Bradford Grammar School and the Slade School of Art, and then spent a year at a Paris art school, where he met Degas, Pissarro and Whistler. On his return, he spent some time in Oxford, where he produced the series of lithographs, Oxford Characters (1893–96). He became a leading personality of the fin de siècle, a friend of Max Beerbohm, Aubrey Beardsley, and Oscar Wilde, and a contributor to the Yellow Book.

During World War i, he served as an official war artist and, from 1917 to 1920, held the post of professor of civic art at the University of Sheffield. He attained his greatest prominence, however, as principal of the Royal College of Art, London (1920–35). During World War ii, he was attached to the Royal Air Force as an artist. Rothenstein chiefly painted portraits, still lifes and landscapes. Among his work is a group of Jewish subjects and synagogue interiors, such as The Talmud School (1904) and Carrying the Law (1909). He wrote a number of books, mostly portraits of eminent contemporaries. His two autobiographical works, Men and Memories (1931–32) and Since Fifty (1934), offer vivid descriptions of artists and events he knew. He was knighted in 1934. Rothenstein helped many impoverished Jewish artists and other artists in need. Volumes of his correspondence with Max Beerbohm and Rabindrinath Tagore were published in 1972 and 1975.

His son sir john rothenstein (1901–1992), who was educated at Bedales and Oxford, was director of the Tate Gallery, London (1938–64). He had no connection with the Jewish community and converted to Christianity. He wrote three volumes of autobiography, published in 1965–70.

A younger brother of William Rothenstein, albert daniel (1881–1953), who changed his name to Rutherston during World War i, was also an artist and illustrator who designed an imaginative Haggadah (1930). Another son, Michael *Rothenstein (1908–1993), was a prominent printmaker.


R. Speaight, William Rothenstein, The Portrait of an Artist in his Time (1962). add. bibliography: odnb online for all three; I. Rogerson, Albert Rutherston (1998); M. Rutherston, Albert Rutherston, 1881–1953 (1988).

[Charles Samuel Spencer]

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