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Sir William Rothenstein

Sir John Rothenstein


1894 – 1983




Manuscript Collection Number 502


Accessioned:  Purchase, 2002


Extent:  1 linear ft. (3 manuscript boxes)


Content:  Manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, periodicals and journals, and ephemera


Access:  The collection is open for research.


Processed:  May 2004 by Gerald Cloud

Table of Contents

  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Contents Note
  • Series List
  • Contents List


    Biographical Note

    Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1872, William Rothenstein showed promise as an art student and in 1889 secured a place at the Academie Julian in Paris.  He was soon moving in circles that included artists such as Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and James McNeill Whistler.  Returning to England in 1893, William Rothenstein began to receive commissions to paint the portraits of notable figures and became one of the best-known portrait painters of his time.  He painted most of the celebrated figures of the period, including Max Beerbohm, Albert Einstein, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Bernard Shaw, Paul Verlaine, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and the Duke of Windsor.  William Rothenstein married Alice Knewstub in 1899 and they settled in London, eventually moving to a farm in Gloucestershire.  In 1917 he was elected to the Chair of Civic Art at Sheffield, and in 1920 he was appointed Principal of the Royal College of Art in London.  Artists who studied under William Rothenstein included Edward Bawden, Edward Burra, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth.  William Rothenstein was awarded a knighthood in 1931.  He died in 1945.

    John Knewstub Maurice Rothenstein, the oldest of the four children of William and Alice Rothenstein, was born in 1901.  Educated at Oxford, where he shared rooms with William Gerhardi, who would become a novelist of some note, John Rothenstein gravitated towards a career as an author and critic.  Meeting with little success in England, he moved to the United States in 1927 where he obtained positions teaching art history at the University of Kentucky and later the University of Pittsburgh.  While in Kentucky, John Rothenstein married Elizabeth Kennard Smith; they returned to England in 1929.  Here he completed a novel, Morning Sorrow, which was published in 1930, and earned his doctorate in the History of Art at University College London the following year.  In 1932, he was appointed Director of Leeds City Art Gallery and in 1934 became Director of the Sheffield Art Galleries and Museums.

    In 1938, John Rothenstein was appointed Director of the Tate Gallery in London, a position he held until his retirement in 1964.  One of his initial tasks was to prepare the museum for the onset of the second world war.  He found safe refuge for many of the museum’s most important works of art in country houses, castles, and other facilities.  During the German bombardment, the Tate Gallery sustained significant damage, but John Rothenstein’s foresight allowed the collection to survive.  Under his leadership, the Tate recovered from the effects of the war and emerged as a strong proponent of twentieth-century British Art, championing the work of such artists as Wyndham Lewis, Walter Sickert, and Matthew Smith.

    John Rothenstein retired from the Tate in 1964 and devoted the rest of his life to writing and lecturing.  Over the course of his career he wrote more than thirty books primarily on contemporary British art.  His most important work was Modern English Painters (1952-1974); and his autobiography was published in three separate volumes between 1966 and 1970. John Rothenstein died in 1992.

    The Rothenstein library is a unique assemblage of books in a wide variety of subjects and by an impressive range of authors.  As one might expect, art and art history are well represented with copies of William and John Rothenstein’s publications, along with work by such figures as Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis, Henry Moore, and Charles Ricketts.  The Rothensteins were well known within literary circles and the collection includes numerous works of poetry, fiction, and criticism by such authors as Joseph Conrad, W.H. Davies, Walter de la Mare, John Drinkwater, William Gerhardi, Stephen Hudson, George Moore, Edith Sitwell, James Stephens, and Alec Waugh.  Most of these books bear presentation inscriptions from their authors to either William or John Rothenstein.

                The Rothenstein library forms a splendid complement to existing collections in Special Collections.  Rothenstein copies of a number of Thomas J. Wise’s forged or pirated pamphlets which the library lacked add to the extensive collection of Wise material in the Frank W. Tober Collection.  In addition, John Rothenstein’s close friendship with the artist and private printer Victor Hammer yielded a selection of Hammer’s scarce and elusive publications.  William Rothenstein’s friendship with Paul Verlaine led the French poet to present him with an original poetry manuscript which is now part of the collection.  Perhaps most important of all are the publications by William and John Rothenstein.  The collection includes William Rothenstein’s scarce portfolio publications such as Oxford Characters (1896), English Portraits (1898), Liber Juniorum (1899), Manchester Portraits (1900), a proof copy of Six Portraits of Sir Rabindranath Tagore (1915), and numerous other publications.  A strong collection of John Rothenstein’s work is also present.




    Chisholm, Anne and Michael Davie.  Beaverbrook: A Life. London: Hutchinson, 1992.


    Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2004


    “Rothenstein Family Library Acquired.” Newsletter of the UD Library Associates. September 2002, no. 43


    Speaight, Robert.  William Rothenstein: The Portrait of an Artist in his Time. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1962.


    “William Rothenstein, Sir.” Almanac of Famous People, 8th ed. Gale Group, 2003.  Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2004.

    Scope and Content Note


    The University of Delaware Library’s collection of books from the family library of the British artist Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) and his son, the art historian Sir John Rothenstein (1901-1992), numbers over six hundred volumes.  The collection documents the important careers of the Rothensteins, and also includes books by many of the most celebrated authors and artists of the twentieth century, which have been cataloged in Special Collections.  A smaller tangential collection comprises manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, periodicals and journals, and ephemera related to Sir William Rothenstein and his son, Sir John Rothenstein.

    Items related to Sir William Rothenstein include an autograph manuscript poem dedicated to Sir William by the French poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) and two art journals featuring writing and drawings by Sir William.

    The materials related to Sir John Rothenstein comprise several manuscripts, including two typescript manuscripts for the first volume of his autobiography, Summer’s Lease (1965); an autograph manuscript, possibly from the second volume of his autobiography, Brave Day Hideous Night (1966); and fragments of a corrected manuscript from Modern English Painters [1984].  Also included in the collection is a large group of correspondence between Sir John and Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper publisher (London Daily Express, London Sunday Express, and Evening Standard), British statesman, and art collector.  The correspondence dates from 1952-1964 and concerns the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.  Other materials related to Sir John include several art journals and periodicals with articles written by him. 

    Series List


    I.          Sir William Rothenstein

    II.         Sir John Rothenstein


Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

I. Sir William Rothenstein


1          F1        “Anniversaire, à William Rothenstein,” by Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)

Autograph manuscript poem in Verlaine’s hand, dated “Paris, 30 Mars 1894.”  Includes pencil sketch of an unidentified figure.  Cf. William Rothenstein, the Portrait of an Artist in his Time, p. 91, which mentions the poem, and the published version of the poem in Oeuvres Completes de Paul Verlaine (Paris: L. Vanier / A. Messein) vol. 3, p. 143. 


F2        Artwork: A Quarterly, ed. by D.S. MacColl, 1929 (2 items)

Spring 1929 (no. 17) with Rothenstein’s portrait of “P.W. Steer,” 1928

Autumn 1929 (no. 19) with WR’s article “Recollections II—Paris” and three drawings. 



II. Sir John Rothenstein


F3        Autobiography [Brave Day Hideous Night ?], [1959?]

Autograph manuscript in JR’s hand.  Notes which appear related to JR’s autobiography, dated between 1941-1959, which suggests that the mss is part of Brave Day Hideous Night (1966).  61 leaves.


F4        Modern English Painters, text, n.d.

Typescript manuscripts (and some carbons) with autograph corrections in JR’s hand, including entries for Catherine Dean, Stanley Spencer, and Euan Uglow.  28 pp.


F5        Modern English Painters, bibliography and exhibitions, [1983]

Typescript manuscript and photocopies with autograph corrections in at least two unknown hands.  Some of the material here may not have been used for Modern English Painters, but represents exhibitions and bibliographies of the artists represented within that work. 


F6        Reviews, n.d.

Typescript (c) manuscript of a review for three monographs on English painters: Hogarth: His Life, Art, Times; Stubbs; and Mr. Stubbs the Horse Painter. 

Sir John Rothenstein

Manuscripts (cont’d)


1          F7        Summer’s Lease, Being a First Volume of Autobiography, [1965]

Typescript manuscript with minor autograph corrections in an unknown hand.  Includes paper wrapper of the literary agency Curtis Brown, Ltd., London.  Contains chapters 1-4.



F8        Summer’s Lease, Being a First Volume of Autobiography, 1965

Typescript manuscript (carbon).  Includes paper wrapper of the literary agency Curtis Brown, Ltd., London.  The first four chapters of this copy appear to be the carbons for the typescript above; however, this copy also includes chapters 5-8.  Noted and dated “Hamish Hamilton – Sept. 30th 1965” on the paper cover. 



Beaverbrook Art Gallery

Correspondence—John Rothenstein and Lord Beaverbrook (Sir Max Aitken) (1879-1964)

F9        Incoming and outgoing correspondence, 1952-1964, organized chronologically.

Correspondence between JR and Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper publisher (London Daily Express, London Sunday Express, and Evening Standard), British statesman, and art collector.  The correspondence is primarily related to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, established in Fredericton, New Brunswick, September 16, 1959, as a gift from Lord Beaverbrook.  Beaverbrook’s collection largely comprises paintings by twentieth-century English artists, but is also rich in British paintings from the Elizabethan to the modern era, including paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, as well as important nineteenth-century Canadian works.  JR provided Beaverbrook with direction and advice on acquisitions and other matters related to the operation of an art gallery.  Includes correspondence from other individuals consulted by JR concerning the Beaverbrook gallery and collection.  Over 100 pieces of correspondence are included.  Also include two photographs of paintings by George Stubbs (1956). 


F10      Beaverbrook Gallery materials

Beaverbrook Art Gallery collection list (n.d.); Lord B’s BBC television address 14 May 1952, typescript; JR’s short essay on the Beaverbrook Gallery, typescript; “Fredericton Art Gallery” list of paintings, typescript; “Figures in a Landscape,” by Charles Conder, photograph; invitation card for the Gallery’s opening; news clipping.


Periodicals / Journals


3          F11      Architect’s Journal, January 6, 1926

Includes an essay on “Clough Williams-Ellis,” by John Rothenstein. 


F12      Architect’s Journal, April 21, 1926

Includes “A Landmark of New America,” by JR, which is a review of the new Telephone Building in San Francisco 


F13      Axis: A Quarterly Review of Contemporary Abstract Painting and Sculpture, 1936-1937 (four items)

Spring 1936 (no. 5)

Summer 1936 (no. 6)

Autumn, 1936 (no. 7)

Early Winter, 1937 (no. 8).  Inscribed to “John” by the journal’s editor Myfanwy Evans, February 1971.


F14      The Malahat Review: An International Quarterly of Life and Letters, 1970

January 1970 (no. 13).  Inscribed “To John | with affection | and friendship | Cecil | Spring. London 1970,” perhaps by Cecil Collins, whose artwork is the focus of an article appearing in this issue of The Malahat and who is also one of the principle subjects in JR’s Modern English Painters.


F15      The Month, January 1949 (New Series, no. 1)

Includes “Androcles and Mr. Newman: A Fragment of Autobiography for V.T.,” by JR, regarding his conversion to Catholicism




F16      Ballet Anglais de Marie Rambert, [1937]

Souvenir program for a tour of Marie Rambert’s English Ballet troup in France.  The program bears the signatures of many of the company’s dancers and musicians, as well as Rambert herself, who has dated her signature “28/7/37.” Additionally signed by Colin Kendall, the artist who designed the program cover. 


F17      Birthday Card, 11 July 1981

Handmade birthday greeting card “on the occasion of Sir John Rothenstein’s eightieth birthday… from some of his many friends…” Includes inscriptions, drawings, and notes pasted into larger colored paper sheets, from Sacheverell Sitwell, Christopher Ironside, John Betjeman, and a group from the Tate Gallery. 


F18      “Wright’s Coal Tar Soap,” ca. 1900 [paper bookmark]

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