Julian Trevelyan was born in Dorking, Surrey and read English Literature at Trinity College, Cambridge before relocating to Paris, France to become an artist. He began his studies at the Atelier Dix-Sept, run by Stanley William Hayter, where he received instruction in the art of etching between the years 1930 to 1934 alongside contemporaries such as Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. Trevelyan subsequently travelled throughout Europe seeking artistic inspiration before establishing his home and studio in Hammersmith, London. In 1936 the artist became a member of the English Surrealist Group, exhibiting at the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in the same year. In the years that followed the artist exhibited widely in London, where his talent as a painter and printmaker was well received, and held his first solo exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in 1937.
During the Second World War the artist served as a Camouflage Officer with the Royal Engineers from the years 1940 to 1943. Whilst stationed in North Africa and Palestine Trevelyan helped in establishing a new visual language for desert camouflage, echoing the explorative nature of his artistic approach. Following the War the artist renewed his artistic career with great passion. He became a member of the London Group in 1948 and later served as Vice-President of the Group in 1956. Alongside his professional career, the artist taught both History of Art and Etching at the Chelsea School of Art until 1955 and later served as Tutor and later Head of Engraving at the Royal College of Art until his retirement in 1963. In 1987 Trevelyan was elected a Royal Academician. He continued to paint and produce prints alongside his second wife Mary Fedden until his death in 1988.