Artist biography

English painter. Roberts never lost the impeccable clarity of design that his early poster-designing experience seems to have instilled in him. He thrived at the Slade, executing a tempera wall painting under Professor Tonks's supervision. He was fascinated by the achievements of Post-Impressionism and Cubism, an interest fortified in 1913 when he left the Slade and travelled in France and Italy.

Roberts showed a sturdy independence, viewing the life around him with an almost Hogarthian eye for the antics of London's inhabitants. He was one of the list of signatories to the first issue of Blast. His gruelling experiences at the Front changed the direction of his work.

Like the other Vorticists, Roberts returned to London with a more representational art in view. Many of his pictures of the 1920s contain acerbic and even grotesque elements, as he developed into an interpreter of city life on the street, in the cinema, at the music hall and on the dance floor. Retaining the stern architecture of his pre-war work and yet infusing it with a more robust feeling for the solidity of the human figure, Roberts treated his predominantly working-class protagonists with humour and dignity. Between 1939 and 1945 Roberts and his family lived in Oxford, and so images of punting holiday-makers replaced his former preoccupation with metropolitan life. In his later years his main outlet was the Royal Academy, where he was elected an RA in 1966 and continued to show monumental urban scenes until his death in 1980.

William Roberts ARA (exh. cat. by R. Alley, London, Tate, 1965)
R. Cork: Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, 2 vols (London, 1975–6)
William Roberts RA (exh. cat. by E. J. Stanford, Reading, Mus. & A.G., 1983)
William Roberts: An Artist and his Family (exh. cat. by R. Gibson, London, N.P.G., 1984)


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