William Roberts in Woking

Grooming Horses, a watercolour by William Roberts, has been lent by the GAC to The Horse at War 1914–1918, an exhibition at The Lightbox, Woking, from 25 November 2014 to 1 March 2015. This exhibition will look at how during the First World War the horse was depicted both as a beast of burden and a noble, heroic creature by some of the leading British artists of the day including Sir Alfred Munnings and William Roberts. 

Grooming Horses

© Estate of the Artist

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Grooming Horses, one of William Roberts' works dating from c. 1917–19, was probably painted in England or in France. It is closely related to, and may be a study for Roberts' painting 'Feeds Round: Stable-time in the Wagon-lines, France 1919', which is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. Prior to the War, Roberts had developed a schematic and angular drawing style especially in his representation of the human figure. However, his experiences both as an Official War Artist and as a soldier seem to have prompted him to adopt a less harsh and more human approach to depicting figures – this is evident in his treatment of the grooms, horses and the attending soldiers in this watercolour.

Roberts preferred to represent figure subjects from daily life. Although his style underwent modifications during his career, its sturdy directness and strength of design remained consistently figurative throughout most of his working life. After 1945 nearly all of his work consisted of stylised renderings of people in everyday situations.

The son of a carpenter, William Roberts was born in Hackney, London. From the age of 14 he was apprenticed to an advertising firm; in the evenings he attended classes at St Martin's School of Art. In 1910 he won a scholarship to the Slade School of Art, which he attended until 1913. He was briefly associated with Roger Fry's Omega Workshops in 1913, and in 1914, Roberts was one of the signatories of the Vorticists' manifesto published in the first issue of Blast magazine. He also participated in their exhibition of 1915.

During the First World War, Roberts served as a gunner with the Royal Field Artillery and served in France. He later became an Official War Artist to the Ministry of Information and the Canadian War Records Office. In 1920 he took part in the Group X exhibition at the Mansard Gallery, London. His first solo show was held at the Chenil Gallery, London, in 1923.

Between 1925 and 1960 Roberts was a part-time tutor at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. After spending the duration of the Second World War in Oxford, he returned to London where he exhibited at the Royal Academy each year until his death. In 1958 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy and became an R.A. in 1968. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Tate Gallery in 1965. Roberts died on 20 January 1980 at his house near Regent's Park, London.

Further Information

The Horse at War 1914–1918
The Lightbox
Chobham Road, Woking, Surrey, GU21 4AA
Telephone: 01483 737800
Email: info@thelightbox.org.uk