William Rothenstein

Date of birth: 
29 Jan 1872
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
14 Feb 1945
Location of death: 
Gloucestershire, England



William Rothenstein was a renowned artist and art administrator, who was interested in various forms and origins of art.

On 4 February 1910, Sir George Birdwood chaired a lecture given by E. B. Havell to the Royal Society of Arts and commented that India had no fine arts. Outraged, Rothenstein, with 12 other signatories (including T. W. Rolleston and George Russell (AE)), wrote a letter to The Times, published on 28 February 1910, to dispute the idea that India had no fine art. Subsequently, Havell and Rothenstein were instrumental in the foundation of the India Society, which was based in London to promote Indian art.

Rothenstein travelled to India in 1910 with Christiana Herringham and met Rabindranath Tagore in Calcutta. When Tagore visited London in 1912, Rothenstein introduced him to literary circles. Tagore was often found at Rothenstein's house in Hampstead, North London. Rothenstein urged the India Society to publish Tagore's Gitanjali in 1912, which won Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Rothenstein went to the Western Front in 1917 as Official War Artist. With these duties, he was unable to comply with the request from Kedar Nath Das Gupta and Laurence Binyon to decorate the scenery for their production of Sakuntala in 1919. Rothenstein remained an active member of the India Society in his lifetime, Indian art was an influence on his own paintings, and he was a key figure at memorial meetings for Tagore in 1941. He was knighted in 1931 and died in 1945.

Published works: 

Men and Memories (London: Faber and Faber, 1932)

Contributions to periodicals: 
Secondary works: 

Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard, 'An Indian Renascence and the Rise of Global Modernism – William Rothenstein, Abanindranath Tagore, and the Ajanta Frescoes', Burlington Magazine (April 2010)

Lago, Mary, 'A Lost Treasure: William Rothenstein, Tagore and the India Society', The Times Literary Supplement (16 April 1999) 

Lago, Mary, Christiana Herringham and the Edwardian Art Scene (London: Lund Humphries, 1996)

Mitter, Partha, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Mitter, Partha, The Triumph of Modernism (London: Reaktion, 2007) 

Rothenstein, William, and Lago, Mary McClelland, Imperfect Encounter: Letters of William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, 1911-1914, ed., introduction and notes by Mary McClelland Lago (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972)

Archive source: 

Houghton Library, Harvard University, Boston

Correspondence relating to Indian Art, Mss Eur B213, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

India Society papers, Mss Eur F147, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Tate Britain, Millbank, London