William Ratcliffe Biography

William Ratcliffe




Painter, printmaker, and illustraot William Whiteread Ratcliffe was born October 6, 1870 in the village of Clenchwarton, England. His family family relocated to Manchester when Ratcliffe was young, and after finishing primary school he worked as a clerk in a cotton merchant’s office. For seven years, Ratcliffe attended evening classes in practical design at Manchester School of Art, where the Director of Design was Walter Crane (1845–1915), a committed socialist and influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement. Perhaps inspired by the Arts and Crafts ethic, around 1894 Ratcliffe began working as a wallpaper designer. Although none of his designs are identified, their legacy can be seen in such paintings as The Attic Room (1918) in which a detailed wallpaper pattern is carefully reproduced. 

In 1906 he moved to Letchworth, a newly founded city that attracted young Arts and Crafts artists with its proximity to the countryside and its textile, ceramics, and furniture industries. In his first year at Letworth Ratcliffe worked as a freelance designer producing illustrations of the city for books, postcards and the annual engagement calendar published by new printing companies such as the Garden City Press. However, with encouragement from friends, in 1910 Ratcliffe decided to abandon graphic design and enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. He studied there part-time and at the same time began attending the regular ‘At Homes’ held at 19 Fitzroy Street under the auspices of Walter Sickert. He began exhibiting in 1911 with the Allied Artists' Association and was welcomed into the coveted Camden Town Group, and in 1913 he co-founded the London Group, with whom he exhibited until 1926. 

Visits to Sweden and France between the years 1912 and 1914 greatly influenced his work, as well as his association with Lucien Pisarro, who was also a member of the Camden Town Group. In the years leading up to World War I he created some of his best known work, including "Spring in Sweden," "Dieppe," and "The Coffee House, East Finchley." Following the war, and on the heels of the deaths of two close artist friends and supporters, Ratcliff's painting output became greatly reduced, in the 1920s he began to focus on woodcuts and drawings in watercolor and ink. In 1927 he traveled to the United States to participate in the Exhibition of Watercolors at the Art Institute of Chicago, and again the following year. 

Ratcliffe continued to live and work throughout England. In 1946 he held his first major solo exhibition with works from 1913 to 1921, and in 1954, the year before his death, a major retrospective of his work was held at the Letchworth Museum of Arts. Included in the show were oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and woodcuts. On January 6, 1955, Ratcliffe died in Hapstead, England. 

Information partially gathered from Tate.org.uk. Find their full biography here.