William Coldstream (1908-87) was one of the leading figures in British twentieth-century art, influential both as a member of the art establishment and as a figurative painter. Trained at the Slade School of Art under Henry Tonks, Coldstream faced the problems of abstract art in the 1930s but rejected the formulas for himself. After a spell making documentary films for John Grierson, alongside his friend, the poet W.H. Auden, Coldstream returned to painting and used art to portray real life, rendering his subjects, whether an urban landscape, a portrait or a nude, with objectivity through a complex system of observing and measuring. In 1937 he founded the Euston Road School with Claude Rogers and Victor Pasmore. The school closed at the beginning of World War II and Coldstream was appointed an official war artist in 1943 and sent to Egypt and also Italy where he painted the war-torn landscape. Following the war he taught at Camberwell School of Art before being appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art in 1949. He remained in that position for twenty-five years, raising the Slade to the height of its renown in the 1950s and 1960s and inspiring generations of students.
During this time Coldstream was active as a reformer of art education, sitting on a number of official committees which, while ensuring him a prominent place in the art world, severely restricted his own opportunities to paint. It was after his retirement in 1975 that Coldstream produced some of his finest works. Drawing on Coldstream's private journals and letters, family papers and the recollections of people who knew him, this biography combines an account of a life and career that spanned most of the twentieth century and a thoroughly knowledgeable analysis of the artist's work.
Bruce Laughton is professor emeritus of art history at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is also the author of The Euston Road School.