William Rothenstein was born in Yorkshire and attended the Slade School of Fine Art, enrolling at the age of sixteen in 1988. He moved to Paris the following year to study at the Académie Julian and he remained there for four years. During his time there he met James MacNeill Whistler, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde and Charles Conder. Leaving Paris in 1983, he returned to England to work on a commission from the publisher John Lane to produce a series of lithographic portraits entitled Oxford Characters. In Oxford he befriended the caricaturist Max Beerbohm and through the publication of Oxford Characters, he came to know artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts and Augustus John. He worked on several other collections including English Portraits in 1898 which included, amongst others, portraits of Thomas Hardy, William Archer and Henry James. During the 1890s he exhibited with the New English Art Club and in 1898 he co-founded the Carfax Gallery. He later withdrew from the N.E.A.C., due to a difference of opinion, as well as rejecting a nomination to the Royal Academy.
Rothenstein was interested in Indian painting and sculpture thus co-founded an India Society in 1910 to educate the British public about the value of Indian art. Between 1910 and 1911 he visited India where he befriended the poet Rabindranath Tagore and he was later instrumental in the publication of Tagore’s collection of poems, Gitanjali, for which Tagore was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. This interest in India had a strong influence on Rothenstien’s painting. He worked as a war artist during the two world wars and many of his paintings from World War I are held by the Imperial War Museum. In 1920 Rothenstein became principal of the Royal College of Art, a position he held for fifteen years. He was knighted in 1931 and he received an honorary DLitt from Oxford University three years later. His work is represented in public collections including the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. He is known for his portraits, his paintings of scenes of Jewish religious life, his Indian scenes and his English landscapes.