William Roberts 1895-1980

William Roberts
Roberts joined the Vorticists in 1914. Founded that year by artist and writer Wyndham Lewis, the Vorticist objective was to break with the decayed state of British art and begin anew. The Vorticist aesthetic relied on tropes of Cubism and Futurism combined and, Roberts' work exemplifies some of the motifs, while equally retaining a connotation of Fernand Léger's tubular representation of human figures.
After the war, Roberts returned to London with a different aesthetic in mind. The experiences of the war had changed him, and now he focussed on the quotidian city life but imbued with his pre-war architectural aesthetic and a renewed concentration on the human figure.

William Roberts Biography

5 June: William Patrick Roberts born at 44 Blackstone Road, London Fields, Hackney, London E8, the third of four children (three sons and a daughter) of Edward Roberts, a carpenter/handyman, and his wife, Emma, née Collins. (The family later moved to 20 West Side - date unknown.)

Attends Gayhouse Road School.

29 July: Sarah Kramer - later Sarah Roberts - born in Leeds, the daughter of Russian émigré Jews, Max and Cecilia Kramer, and sister of the artist Jacob Kramer (1892-1962).

William Roberts's school allows him to spend extra time on art classes.

William Roberts attends Queen's Road School for additional art classes.

William Roberts leaves school and is apprenticed to Sir Joseph Causton Ltd, a poster designing and advertising firm.

William Roberts attends evening classes run by William Robins at St Martin's School of Art, Endell Street, London WC2.

William Roberts wins a London County Council (LCC) scholarship to study art at the Slade School, remaining there for three years and becoming friends with Jacob Kramer, a fellow student.

William Roberts contributes a panel showing carpenters at work, painted in egg tempera, to decorations for the walls of a girls club in Lillie Road, Fulham.

William Roberts is awarded an internal Slade scholarship.

Summer: William Roberts stays with Sir Cyril Butler (a friend of Slade principal Henry Tonks) at Bourton House near Shrivenham, Berkshire.

William Roberts gains first commission - from Sir Cyril Butler for six drawings of London markets (only two of which were completed).

William Roberts awarded the Melvill Nettleship Prize for figure composition.

William Roberts leaves the Slade; travels in France and Italy.

Autumn: William Roberts borrows room in Old Cumberland Hay Market, north of Regent's Park, and paints his first 'Abstract' pictures.

William Roberts is recommended by Laurence Binyon of the British Museum Print Room to Roger Fry; starts work at Fry's Omega Workshop in Fitzroy Square, London W1.

December: William Roberts's earliest surviving oil painting, The Return of Ulysses, is exhibited at the New English Art Club.

January: William Roberts exhibits with Roger Fry's Grafton Group at the Alpine Club Gallery, London.

William Roberts meets Wyndham Lewis; leaves Omega Workshop and joins the circle of Lewis, Edward Wadsworth, Frederick Etchells and Cuthbert Hamilton.

May/June: William Roberts exhibits eight works in the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements' at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.

June: William Roberts contributes two illustrations - 'Dancers' and 'Religion' - to the first issue of Blast - the Review of the Great English Vortex (published 2 July) - and Wyndham Lewis prints his name as a signatory to the Vorticist manifesto.

Sarah Kramer, visiting her brother in London during the school holidays, meets William Roberts with a group of Slade students in an ABC tea shop in Tottenham Court Road.

March: William Roberts shows three works in the London Group exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, London.

15 April: William Roberts 's cubist drawing of St George and the Dragon appears in the London Evening News.

June/July: William Roberts shows six works in the Vorticist exhibition at the Doré Galleries, London.

July: William Roberts contributes two illustrations to Blast No. 2: 'Combat' and 'Drawing'.

William Roberts fails to get accepted by the Artists' Rifles.

William Roberts works for some weeks in a munitions factory in Tufnell Park, London NW5.

4 April: William Roberts enlists in Royal Field Artillery (RFA) as a gunner (no.123744), having failed to join Welch Regiment.

April: At 4th Depot RFA, Woolwich, London; then transferred to cavalry barracks, at Weedon, Northamptonshire.

August: William Roberts spends embarkation leave at the Eiffel Tower Hotel, Percy Street, London W1, then reports to RFA Woolwich depot before in mid-August embarking for Le Havre.

With his unit, William Roberts joins 51st Brigade, RFA; takes course in signalling.

Late August/early September: William Roberts joins the gun batteries of 51st Brigade facing Vimy Ridge.

c.late 1916: William Roberts becomes an officer's batman for a time, including a week at Paris-Plage near Boulougne.

Early spring: William Roberts moves with the 51st Brigade to Arras.

Late autumn: William Roberts moves with 51st Brigade to Ypres sector, north of the Menin Ridge.

Late 1917: William Roberts receives letter from a friend, Captain Guy Baker, suggesting application to Paul Konody, who is selecting artists to prepare war paintings for the Canadian War Records Office.

January: Two weeks' home leave, at Hackney and the Eiffel Tower Hotel; then back to France to rejoin 51st Brigade near Neuport.

William Roberts receives letter dated 28 December 1917 from the Canadian War Records Office about painting battle pictures for the Canadian War Memorial Fund.

Early 1918: William Roberts with 51st Brigade on the Somme at Etinehem near Albert.

April: While retreating with 51st Brigade to Messines in the Ypres sector, William Roberts receives summons to return to England as an official war artist for the Canadian War Records Office.

20 April: William Roberts arrives back in London, and is then joined by Sarah.

May: William Roberts approached by the British Ministry of Information to paint a picture for the proposed Great War Hall of Remembrance.

William Roberts takes studio in Flood Street, Chelsea, to work on The First German Gas Attack at Ypres for the Canadian War Records Office.

William Roberts works on A Shell Dump, France for the Ministry of Information.

Winter: The First German Gas Attack at Ypres hangs with other Canadian-commissioned war paintings at the Royal Academy.

6 June: Son - John David Roberts - born at 54 Leigham Court Road, Streatham, London SW16; father's address given as 59 College Road, Chalk Farm, London NW3.

A Shell Dump, France included at the centre of a exhibition of memorial art at the Royal Academy.

Prepares designs for Edith Sitwell's Wheels and for Sitwell's 'French Art 1914-1919' exhibition.

September/October: Demobilised (date sometimes given as 15 October).

Designs a cover for the December issue (no. 3) of the Coterie arts review (and later for the relaunched New Coterie in 1925-7).

March: Takes part in Group X exhibition at Mansard Gallery, Heal's, London W1.

William Roberts told by Colin Gill, a former fellow student at the Slade, that T. E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia') is seeking artists to make portrait drawings for a book he is producing.

William Roberts meets T.E. Lawrence and starts work on drawings for the de-luxe edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (published 1926).

Early 1920s
William Roberts spends some summers at T. E. Lawrence's cottage Clouds Hill, in Dorset.

William Roberts prepares design for the cover of Fanfare.

28 June: William Roberts marries Sarah Kramer from 7 Springfield Mount, Leeds.

T. E. Lawrence commissions portrait illustrations for The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and has his own portrait painted by William Roberts.

November: First solo exhibition, at Chenil Galleries, London - 'Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.

William Roberts commissioned by Frank Pick of the London Underground to prepare a large hoarding (The History of the Omnibus ) for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924-6.

The Bus Stop, study for a poster, 1924

William Roberts becomes a visiting teacher at the LCC Central School and continues there, apart from the war years, until 1960.

Publication of the de-luxe edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, including Roberts portraits.

William Roberts joins the London Artists' Association.

William Roberts prepares jacket design for Rhys Davies's The Withered Root.

William Roberts contributes etchings to a Hardel Monro chapbook.

Solo exhibition (sponsored by London Artists' Association) at the Cooling Galleries, London.

Another solo exhibition (sponsored by London Artists' Association) at the Cooling Galleries, London - 'Recent Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.

William Roberts shows work in the Venice Biennale.

London Artists' Association disbanded. Roberts transfers to Lefevre Gallery, London.

February/March: Solo exhibition, Lefevre Gallery, London - 'New Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.

March: Solo exhibition, Lefevre Gallery, London - 'Works by William Roberts'.

William Roberts moves to Oxford shortly after the outbreak of war, remaining there until 1945. Teaches one day a week at the Oxford Technical School.

William Roberts appointed part-time war artist by the Artists Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information.

July/August: Solo exhibition, Redfern Gallery, London - 'William Roberts'.

October/November: Solo water-colour exhibition, Leicester Galleries, London - 'Drawings in Colour by William Roberts'.

Ernest Cooper, the owner of a number of health-food shops, starts buying William Roberts's work and becomes his principal patron, eventually owning 20 oils and 49 other works, mainly watercolours.

William Roberts moves to 14 St Mark's Crescent, backing on to the canal near Regent's Park, London NW1, where he will live for the rest of his life.

William Roberts begins exhibiting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (subsequently shows there every year until his death).

November: Solo exhibition, Leicester Galleries, London - 'New Drawings, Satirical and Otherwise by William Roberts'.

London Transport Board commissions a poster - Hampstead Fair - advertising fairs accessible by public transport.

William Roberts publishes The Resurrection of Vorticism and the Apotheosis of Wyndham Lewis at the Tate - the first of five Vortex Pamphlets - in response to the Wyndham Lewis exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London. (Subsequent Vortex Pamphlets appear later in 1956, in 1957 and in 1958.)

William Roberts publishes Some Early Abstract and Cubist Work 1913 -1920.

February: Solo exhibition, Leicester Galleries, London - 'Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.

20 May: William Roberts elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.

Publishes Paintings 1917 -1958 by William Roberts A.R.A.

William Roberts receives an award from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation 'in recognition of his artistic achievement and his outstanding service to British painting'.

Publishes William Roberts A.R.A., Paintings and Drawings 1909 -1964.

Retrospective exhibition - 'William Roberts, A.R.A.' - organised by the Arts Council, at the Tate Gallery, London; WR designs catalogue cover.

William Roberts refuses OBE (earlier that year the Beatles had been awarded MBEs).

William Roberts elected Royal Academician.

January/February: William Roberts Tate retrospective exhibition travels to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

Exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery - 'William Roberts'.

William Roberts publishes 8 Cubist Designs.

September: Solo exhibition at d'Offay Couper Gallery, London - 'William Roberts, R.A., Drawings and Watercolours 1915-1968'.

William Roberts Retrospective exhibition at Hamet Gallery, London, part of which is then shown at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter - 'William Roberts, R.A.: A Retrospective Exhibition'.

Exhibition at Gallery 27 Emporium Arcade, Nottingham - 'William Roberts R.A.'.

April: William Roberts Retrospective exhibition at Hamet Gallery, London.

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery - 'Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts' (from the collection of Ernest Cooper).

Exhibition at the Tib Lane Gallery, Manchester - 'Water-Colours by William Roberts'.

Retrospective exhibition at Hamet Gallery, London - 'William Roberts, R.A.'.

William Roberts publishes In Defence of English Cubists and Memories of the War to End War 1914 -18.

William Roberts publishes Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts R.A.

William Roberts Retrospective exhibition at Parkin Gallery, London - 'William Roberts R.A.'.

William Roberts writes Early Years (published posthumously, in 1982).

The Tate Gallery buys The Gutter from Ernest Cooper.

20 January: William Roberts dies - having worked up to the last day of his life.

The Tate Gallery buys Trooping the Colour from Ernest Cooper.

September/October: William Roberts Retrospective exhibition at Maclean Gallery, London - 'William Roberts, R.A., 1895-1980'.

William Roberts Exhibition at Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London - 'William Roberts 1895-1980: Drawings and Watercolours'.

Publication of `William Roberts: Early Years'

William Roberts Exhibition at Salander-O Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York.

March/April: William Roberts Retrospective exhibition at Reading Museum and Art Gallery - 'William Roberts R.A.: An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts R.A. 1895-1980'.

July/October: William Roberts Exhibition at National Portrait Gallery, London - 'William Roberts 1895-1980: An Artist and his Family'.

William Roberts Exhibition at Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge - 'William Roberts R.A.: Watercolours, Drawings and Etchings'.

William Roberts Exhibition at Gillian Jason Gallery, London - 'Double-Sided Drawings'.

William Roberts Exhibition at Albemarle Gallery, London - 'William Roberts R.A.: Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours 1910-1978'.

William Roberts Exhibition at Gillian Jason Gallery, London - 'William Roberts, Paintings and Drawings'.

John Roberts publishes in Valencia Five Posthumous Essays and other Writings by William Roberts.

William Roberts Exhibition at Gillian Jason Gallery, London - ' William Roberts . 40 Self-Portraits'.

April/May: William Roberts Exhibition at Gillian Jason Gallery, London - 'William Roberts 1895-1980: Humour and Satire'.

29 November: Sarah Roberts dies at St Mark's Crescent.

Mid-February: John Roberts dies at St Mark's Crescent.

This biography is based on information collated by the William Roberts Society and draws from William Roberts's writings; the biographical details in Elizabeth Cayzer's Maclean Gallery catalogue `William Roberts, R.A. 1895-1980: A Retrospective Exhibition'; chronologies in the 1984 National Portrait Gallery catalogue `William Roberts 1895-1980: An Artist and his Family' and the 1989 Albemarle Gallery catalogue `William Roberts R.A.: Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours 1910-1978'; as well as information supplied by Ruth Artmonsky.

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