Chronology of William Roberts

and his Family

[Last revised 5 March 2018]

The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour 
Eiffel: Spring, 1915

The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring, 1915 (oil on canvas), 1961–2 (Tate Gallery)
(Roberts is the second from the left seated at the table.)
© The Estate of John David Roberts

Only the most important exhibitions of William Roberts's work are included in this chronology. For a fuller list of exhibitions in which his work has been featured, click here. It has not been possible to establish precise dates for some events, so the order in which events are listed for particular years may not be accurate.

5 June: William Patrick Roberts born at 44 Blackstone Road, London Fields, Hackney, London E8, the second of four children (three sons and a daughter) of Edward Roberts, a carpenter/handyman, and his wife, Emily, née Collins, who were both from Islington in London. By the time the time William entered school, in October 1898, the family had moved to 4 Blanchard Road, E8, and at the time of the 1911 census they were living at 20 London Fields West Side, E8.

The streets in Hackney where the young William Roberts lived and went to school. His parents had married in the church at bottom right. In 1970–75 the Blackstone Estate was built where Blackstone Road and Blanchard Road used to be.

Attends Gayhurst Road School.
29 July: Sarah Kramer – later Sarah Roberts – born in Russia to Jewish parents, Max and Cecilia Kramer; her brother is the artist Jacob Kramer (1892–1962). By 1904 the family has emigrated to Leeds, where Max works as a photographer.
WR's school allows him to spend extra time on art classes.
Attends Queen's Road School for additional art classes.
Leaves school and is apprenticed to Sir Joseph Causton Ltd, a poster-designing and advertising firm.
Attends evening classes run by William Robins at St Martin's School of Art, Endell Street, London WC2.
Wins a London County Council (LCC) scholarship to study art at the Slade School, remaining there for three years and becoming friends with fellow students Jacob Kramer and David Bomberg.
Contributes a panel showing carpenters at work, painted in egg tempera, to decorations for the walls of a girls club in Lillie Road, Fulham.
Awarded an internal Slade scholarship.

Summer: Stays with Cyril Butler (a friend of Slade principal Henry Tonks) at Bourton House near Shrivenham, Berkshire.
First commission – from Sir Cyril Butler for a portrait and six drawings of London markets (only two of which were completed).

Awarded the Melvill Nettleship Prize for figure composition.

Leaves the Slade; travels in France and Italy.

Autumn: Borrows a room at 18 Cumberland Market, just east of Regent's Park, NW1, and paints his first 'Abstract' pictures.
Recommended by Laurence Binyon of the British Museum Print Room to Roger Fry; starts work at Fry's Omega Workshop in Fitzroy Square, W1.
December: His earliest surviving oil painting, The Return of Ulysses, is exhibited at the New English Art Club.
January: Exhibits with Roger Fry's Grafton Group at the Alpine Club Gallery, London.
Meets Wyndham Lewis; leaves Omega Workshop and joins the circle of Lewis, Edward Wadsworth, Frederick Etchells and Cuthbert Hamilton.
May/June: Exhibits eight works in the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements' at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.

The catalogue of the exhibition 'Twentieth-Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements' at the Whitechapel Gallery

June: 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. In a letter in The Observer of 14 June 1914, Roberts is among the Vorticists who dissociate themselves from Marinetti's Futurist manifesto published there a week earlier.

The cover of Blast No. 1

Is among the young painters and sculptors accommodated by the hunger-marcher Stewart Gray in the house Gray rents at 8 Ormonde Terrace, by Primrose Hill and Regent's Park, NW8. In his Let There Be Sculpture (1940), Jacob Epstein describes how 'there was a life class at which I sometimes drew, and sometimes the artists, among others Roberts and Bomberg, a mysterious Indian artist, and some models, would have parties' there (ch. 11).
Is elected to the London Group. He exhibits with them in 1915, in the 1920s, and occasionally in the 1930s and '40s.
Sarah Kramer, staying with David Bomberg and his wife to visit her brother Jacob in London during the school holidays, meets WR with a group of Slade students in an ABC tea shop in Tottenham Court Road.

Sarah Kramer in 1915

March: WR shows three works in the London Group exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, London.
15 April: WR's cubist drawing of St George and the Dragon appears in the London Evening News.
June/July: Shows six works in the Vorticist exhibition at the Doré Galleries, London.
July: Contributes two illustrations to Blast No. 2: Combat and Drawing (Machine Gunners).
Fails to get accepted by the Artists' Rifles.
Works for some weeks in a munitions factory in Tufnell Park, NW5.
4 April: Enlists in the 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: Spends embarkation leave at the Hôtel de la Tour Eiffel, 1 Percy Street, W1; then reports to RFA Woolwich depot before in mid-August embarking for Le Havre.
With his unit, joins 51st Brigade, RFA; takes course in signalling.
Late August/early September: Joins the gun batteries of 51st Brigade facing Vimy Ridge.
Late 1916?: Becomes an officer's batman for a time, including a week at Paris-Plage near Boulougne.
Early spring: Moves with the 51st Brigade to Arras.
Late autumn: Moves with the 51st Brigade to the Ypres sector, north of the Menin Ridge.
Late 1917: 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 Hôtel de la Tour Eiffel; then back to France to rejoin the 51st Brigade near Heudicourt.
Receives letter dated 28 December 1917 from the Canadian War Records Office about painting battle pictures for the Canadian War Memorial Fund.
Early 1918: With 51st Brigade on the Somme at Etinehem near Albert.

Roberts photographed at Etinehem, France, March 1918

April: While retreating with 51st Brigade to Messines in the Ypres sector, receives a summons to return to England as an official war artist for the Canadian War Records Office.
20 April: Arrives back in London, and is then joined by Sarah.
May: Approached by the British Ministry of Information to paint a picture for the proposed Great War Hall of Remembrance.
Lives at 76 Grafton Street, W1, moving to 32 Percy Street, W1, in the summer.
June: Takes a six-month lease on 10 Chelsea Manor Studios, in Flood Street, SW3, to work on The First German Gas Attack at Ypres for the Canadian War Records Office.
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 – is born at 54 Leigham Court Road, Streatham, London SW16 – a maternity hospital run by the Mission of Hope, an organisation 'carried on for the reception of expecting Mothers (single women) of otherwise good character, and of respectable antecedents'. It was 'careful to take in only birth mothers who came from "decent" backgrounds, and particularly from a Christian home', though Sarah was from a Jewish family.
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 Sacheverell Sitwell's 'French Art 1914–1919' exhibition.
Autumn: Designs three panels for the Hôtel de la Tour Eiffel.

An advertisement for the Hôtel de la Tour Eiffel, mentioning Roberts's designs, in The Tyro, 1, 2 (1922)

13 November: Demobilised.
Designs a cover for the December issue (no. 3) of the Coterie arts review.
March: Takes part in Group X exhibition at the Mansard Gallery, Heal's, London W1.
Moves to Albany Street, NW1.
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.
Meets T. E. Lawrence and starts work on drawings for the de-luxe edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (published 1926).
Moves to Mornington Crescent, NW1.
Prepares a design for the cover of Fanfare.
Moves to Edith Grove, SW10.

William Roberts (standing right) and Joseph Kramer (seated right) with others outside the Harlequin Tea Rooms, c.1922

28 June: Marries Sarah Kramer from 7 Springfield Mount, Leeds.

Sarah Roberts in Paris, after her wedding in 1922

T. E. Lawrence commissions portrait illustrations for Seven Pillars of Wisdom. His own portrait is painted by WR in a room at 2 Coleherne Terrace, Earl's Court. This room, rented from the artist William McCance, is used by WR as a studio until ? late 1924.

Sarah and John Roberts in 1922

Moves to 18 Fitzroy Street, W1.
Four-year-old John Roberts is dropped, and spends several months in hospital, eventually being operated on by a surgeon named Milne, who receives a portrait of Sarah in payment.

Roberts in his studio c.1923 (with Girl in Mauve Hat (aka Sarah) on the easel)

November: First solo exhibition, at Chenil Galleries, London – 'Paintings and Drawings by 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.
February: Writes from 18 Fitzroy Street to William McCance apologising for a bounced cheque for the rent of space at 2 Coleherne Terrace and saying that 'the financial position is such that I feel proud when I am able to produce the cash for the next days [sic] meals.'

Moves to 59 College Road (now Eton College Road), NW3.

Becomes a visiting teacher at the LCC Central School of Art and Design, where he continues teaching until 1960, apart from the war years.

Around this time makes experiments with etching – perhaps through a link with the distinguished printmaker Agnes Miller Parker, who was married to William McCance, and/or the opportunity to use facilities at the Central School.
Contributes etchings to a Harold Monro chapbook.

Harold Monro's The Chapbook No. 40, in which three etchings by Roberts appeared

Through Sarah's friendship with Esther Lahr, begins to receive commissions for portraits of literary figures and for cover designs for the New Coterie magazine that Esther and her husband run from their Progressive Bookshop in Red Lion Street, Holborn.
27 April: A reading of Liam O'Flaherty's new play Darkness takes place in WR's studio, to establish the English copyright. The amateur cast includes Sarah Roberts.

Publication of the de-luxe edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, including Roberts portraits and tailpieces.
Joins the London Artists' Association.
Prepares the jacket design for Rhys Davies's The Withered Root.
Holidays with his family at La Ciotat, near Cassis in the south of France.
In August visits Germany with Rhys Davies, H. E. Bates, Charles Lahr and others.
Solo exhibition (sponsored by London Artists' Association) at the Cooling Galleries, London.
Moves to 59 Haverstock Hill, NW3.
Late 1920s
Through his brother Michael, becomes part of a cosmopolitan social group including Paul de Zoysa, which he records in a number of pictures.
Early 1930s
Spends some summers at T. E. Lawrence's cottage Clouds Hill, in Dorset.

William and John Roberts at Clouds Hill in the early 1930s

Another solo exhibition (sponsored by the London Artists' Association) at the Cooling Galleries, London – 'Recent Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.
Wilfrid Evill, a solicitor and collector of modern British art, buys The Restaurant from the Cooling Galleries exhibition, going on to becoming a keen collector of Roberts's work over the next thirty years.
Shows work in the Venice Biennale.
The Robertses spend two–three weeks in a flat in Alicante, Spain, owned by the brother of family friend Agustín de Irízar, lecturer in Spanish at Leeds University.
London Artists' Association disbanded. Roberts transfers to the Lefevre Gallery, London.
Moves to 6 Provost Road, NW3.
February/March: Solo exhibition, Lefevre Gallery, London – 'New Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.
March: Solo exhibition, Lefevre Gallery, London – 'Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.
Shortly after the outbreak of war, leaves London, staying briefly at Flint Cottage Earl Howe Road, Holmer Green, near High Wycombe; 21 St Mary's Road, Headington, Oxford; and 40 Park Town, Oxford, before moving to 76 Copse Lane, Marston, Oxford, by early June, remaining there until 1946 and teaching one day a week at the Oxford Technical School.
Appointed part-time war artist by the War Artists Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information.
Collaborates with his son on the publication of two illustrated books of verse: Fantasy for Flute and Four Fables (published as by David Roberts).
July/August: Solo exhibition, Redfern Gallery, London – 'William Roberts'.
October/November: Solo watercolour exhibition, Leicester Galleries, London – 'Drawings in Colour by William Roberts'.
Ernest Cooper, the owner of a number of health-food shops, starts buying WR's work and becomes his principal patron, eventually owning 20 oils and 49 other works, mainly watercolours.
Moves to rented rooms at 14 St Mark's Crescent, backing on to the canal near Regent's Park, London NW1.
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'.
12 February: Bernard Meninsky, Roberts's friend and colleague at the Central School, dies.

(L to R) William Roberts, Sarah Roberts, Bernard Meninsky and an unknown woman, 1920s

The London Transport Board commissions a poster – London's Fairs – advertising fairs accessible by public transport.

As sole remaining sitting tenants of 14 St Mark's Crescent, the Robertses buy the house, with the help of Sarah's friend Victoria Kingsley. They will live there for the rest of their lives.
Publishes The Resurrection of Vorticism and the Apotheosis of Wyndham Lewis at the Tate – the first of five 'Vortex Pamphlets' – in response to the exhibition 'Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism' at the Tate Gallery, London. (Subsequent Vortex Pamphlets appear later in 1956, in 1957 and in 1958.)

The catalogue for the Tate's exhibition 'Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism', which prompted Roberts's series of Vortex Pamphlets

Publishes Some Early Abstract and Cubist Work 1913–1920.

19 August: David Bomberg, Roberts's friend from the Slade, dies.
February: Solo exhibition, Leicester Galleries, London – 'Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts'.
25 April: Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.
Publishes Paintings 1917–1958 by William Roberts A.R.A.
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 the catalogue cover.

The poster for WR's 1965 Arts Council retrospective, using part of his Chess Players 1929–30

Refuses an OBE (earlier that year the Beatles had been awarded MBEs).
28 April: Elected a Royal Academician.
January/February: Tate retrospective exhibition travels to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.
Exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery – 'William Roberts'.
Publishes 8 Cubist Designs.
September: Solo exhibition at the d'Offay Couper Gallery, London – 'William Roberts, R.A., Drawings and Watercolours 1915–1968'.

Roberts c.1970

31 December: Elected a Senior Royal Academician.
Retrospective exhibition at the 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, Nottingham – 'William Roberts R.A.'.
April: Retrospective exhibition at the 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 Galleries, Manchester – 'Water-Colours by William Roberts'.
Retrospective exhibition at the Hamet Gallery, London – 'William Roberts, R.A.'.
Publishes In Defence of English Cubists and Memories of the War to End War 1914–18.
Publishes Paintings and Drawings by William Roberts R.A.

With Sarah, visits Etretat on the Normandy coast.
Retrospective exhibition at the Parkin Gallery, London – 'William Roberts R.A.'.
Writes Early Years (published posthumously, in 1982).
The Tate Gallery buys The Gutter from Ernest Cooper.
20 January: Dies – having worked up to the last day of his life.
The Tate Gallery buys Trooping the Colour from Ernest Cooper.
September–October: Retrospective exhibition at the Maclean Gallery, London – 'William Roberts, R.A., 1895–1980'.
Exhibition at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London – 'William Roberts 1895–1980: Drawings and Watercolours'.
Publication of William Roberts: Early Years.
Exhibition at Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York.
March/April: 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: Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London – 'William Roberts 1895–1980: An Artist and his Family'.
Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge – 'William Roberts R.A.: Watercolours, Drawings and Etchings'.
Exhibition at the Gillian Jason Gallery, London – 'Double-Sided Drawings'.
Exhibition at the Albemarle Gallery, London – 'William Roberts R.A.: Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours 1910–1978'.
Exhibition at the Gillian Jason Gallery, London – 'William Roberts, Paintings and Drawings'.
John Roberts publishes in Valencia Five Posthumous Essays and other Writings by William Roberts.
Exhibition at the Gillian Jason Gallery, London – '40 Self-Portraits'.

Sarah and John Roberts in the garden of 14 St Mark's Crescent, 1991

April/May: Exhibition at the 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, intestate, at St Mark's Crescent. The art works in the house are taken in by the Tate Gallery for safekeeping.
6 May: Death of Ernest Cooper.

14 St Mark's Crescent – Roberts's studio was the room to the right of the front door. The blue plaque commemorating his living there was unveiled in 2003. The colour scheme is as towards the end of the Robertses' time; the burglar alarm and the planting are not.

117 works by WR from the estate of John Roberts are allocated to the Tate collection in lieu of inheritance tax on the estate of Sarah Roberts.

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