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William Rothenstein, RP IS NEAC (1872-1945), studied under Alphonse Legros at the Slade School of Fine Art and then in Paris, where he made the acquaintance of advanced French artists who were promoting Naturalism and Impressionism. He exhibited his own work mainly at the New English Art Club, the home of British Impressionism, and became a member of it in 1894.
Rothenstein met Max Beerbohm in Oxford in 1893; Beerbohm was studying at Merton College and Rothenstein was preparing his book of portraits, Oxford Characters, for The Bodley Head. Rothenstein introduced Beerbohm into an artistic circle that included Aubrey Beardsley, and they became close friends corresponding regularly until Rothenstein’s death.
Beerbohm also made many caricatures of Rothenstein over the years. The present one shows the inability of Rothenstein to keep still, and so suggests his industriousness. The Italian inscription, ‘Dolce far niente’, meaning the sweetness of doing nothing, is therefore ironic in this instance. It was popular as a title for paintings during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially of languorous women, including one by Rothenstein’s friend, Charles Conder.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Rothenstein was a significant force in the British art world, proving influential as an administrator, dealer, teacher and writer. As an artist, he is best remembered for his portraits and for the images that he produced at home and abroad during the First and Second World Wars.