Skip to main content

Sir William Rothenstein and Sir John Rothenstein collection

Identifier: MSS 0502

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.

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.

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.


  • Creation: 1894-1983


Language of Materials

Materials in English and French.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use andReproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Sir William Rothenstein

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.

Sir John Rothenstein

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. 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.


1 linear foot (3 manuscript boxes)


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.


Purchase, 2002.

Shelving Summary

  • Boxes 1-3: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes


Processed by Gerald Cloud, May 2004. Encoded by Thomas Pulhamus, March 2010. Further encoding by Lauren Connolly, July 2015.

Finding aid for the Sir William Rothenstein and Sir John Rothenstein collection
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 March 24
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA