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Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945)


Burning couch-grass, circa.1917,

Pencil drawing,

11½ x 18½ inches

Provenance: The artist's family,

Private collection, acquired from the above.


£750 (Free shipping)

Click on image to view larger versions

This is a preparatory drawing for the lithograph that Rothenstein produced for the series, The Great War: Britain's Efforts and Ideals, a portfolio of 66 lithographic prints commissioned by the Ministry of Information in 1917. The objective was to provide a broad record, with a view to boosting morale, of the nation's efforts both at the front and at home in the fields, factories and shipyards. Other artists involved in the project included, Sir George Clausen, Sir William Nicholson and C.R.W. Nevinson. The lithograph of this image can be found in several national collections, including that of the Tate (which can be viewed here).


A superbly draughted drawing, Rothenstein cleverly uses negative space (the untouched paper behind the horse and cart) to convey a plume of smoke created by the burning of the couch-grass (an invasive weed).

Sir William Rothenstein is considered one of the most significant figures of British art of the first half of the 20th Century through his connections and influence upon major artists of the period. 

He studied firstly at the Slade under Alphonse Legros and subsequently at the Académie Julian where he encountered Roger Fry, Walter Sickert, James Whistler, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, amongst many others. Rothenstein was an extremely affable character and he maintained many significant friendships with major figures throughout his life. Max Beerbohm commented, "He knew everyone in Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris in Oxford".

On his return to England, he moved to London and exhibited regularly at the New English Art Club (N.E.A.C) in addition to taking on numerous portrait commissions. Around this time he also opened the Carfax Gallery (which was the first to exhibit Camden Town School paintings). During WWI he was an official war artist, firstly to the British Army in France and subsequently to The Canadian Army of Occupation in 1919.

He was elected Principal of the Royal College of Art (1920-1935) and was knighted in 1931. His work is held in numerous private and public collections including, The Tate, The Imperial War Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

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