The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Rothenstein, 1872-1945

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1872.01.29
Place of Birth: Bradford
Date of Death: 1945.02.14
Place of Death: Far Oakridge, Gloucestershire


Sir William Rothenstein was an English painter, printmaker, teacher and writer. He was the son of a Yorkshire wool merchant. In 1899 he married Alice Mary Knewstub. Their son Michael Rothenstein (1908-93) was also an artist.


Rothenstein studied at the Slade School of Art in London under Alphonse Legros and at the Academie Julian in Paris. He primarily made his reputation executing skillful portrait lithographs of famous cultural figures such as Walter Pater, Max Beerbohm, Paul Verlaine, Auguste Rodin, Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros (Oxford Characters, 1893-6; The French Set, 1898). He also famously made a chalk drawing of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1895; Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin) and a pastel drawing of Charles Conder (1897; Ashmolean, Oxford).

Rothenstein was also a prolific painter. His canvases were strongly influenced by Degas' compositional arrangements and by Whistler's subdued palette and figure style. The Browning Readers (1900; Bradford, Cartwright Hall) is typical with its carefully posed figures within a domestic interior.

Whistler, who met Rothenstein in Paris, was in correspondence with him during the 1890s. In 1896 Whistler accused Rothenstein of being in part responsible for the acceptance of a William Eden watercolour by the jury of the New English Art Club. However, Rothenstein's artistic sympathy for Whistler was apparent when he was called as a witness by Sickert in the libel action which Pennell, supported by Whistler, had called against him in 1897. He was a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers of which Whistler had become President in 1898. In the early 1900s his style gradually evolved towards brighter colours in response to Post-Impressionism.

Rothenstein was knighted in 1931.


Rothenstein, W., Goya, London, 1900; Rothenstein, W., A Plea for the Wider Use of Artists and Craftsmen, London, 1917; Rothenstein, W., Men and Memories, 2 vols, London, 1931-32; Rothenstein, W., Since Fifty, London, 1939; Lago, M., and K. Beckson (eds.), Max and Will: Max Beerbohm and William Rothenstein: Their Friendship and Letters, 1893-1945, London, 1975.

Wellington, H., William Rothenstein, London, 1923; Rothenstein, J., Portrait Drawings of William Rothenstein, 1889-1925, London, 1926; Rothenstein, J. (ed.), Sixteen Letters from Oscar Wilde, London, 1930; John, A., and J. Piper, William Rothenstein: Memorial Exhibition, London, 1950; Speaight, R., William Rothenstein: The Portrait of an Artist in his Time, London, 1962; Walkley, Giles, Artists' houses in London 1764-1914, Aldershot, 1994; Rothenstein, John, 'Sir William Rothenstein', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 30 April 2002).