Join our mailing list

William Roberts RA (1895-1980)
Punting on the Cherwell, 1939

next previous

Punting on the Cherwell was painted in 1939, soon after Roberts moved to Oxford with his wife, Sarah. It was the precursor of many canal-side scenes which became a feature of Roberts’ work when he moved into a house which backed onto Regent’s Canal after the war. The present work, with its vertical punting poles, perfectly illustrates Roberts’ dynamic approach to spatial composition.

Writing about Punting on the Cherwell, in his book, William Roberts: An English Cubist, A. Gibbon Williams says ‘The sombre colouration and low tonal range give the picture a crepuscular, jewel-like intensity that enhances the essential Classicism of the design.’ He also compares the painter to Cezanne and Poussin ‘as if seventeenth-century Classicism is being strained through the sieve of Cubism’.


oil on canvas


20 x 16 in. (54.5 x 62.3 cm)


H. Kemp, by whom acquired direct from the artist in 1939.

H.L. Gordon; Christie’s, London, 19 May 1972, lot 88.

with Hamet Gallery, London.

Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 10 November 1981, lot 116.

Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 21 March 1996, lot 17.

Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 6 June 2003, lot 153, where purchased.


London, Hamet Gallery, William Roberts R.A., April 1973, no. 4.

London, Parkin Gallery, William Roberts R.A., November - December 1976, no. 7.

London, Maclean Gallery, William Roberts R.A., 1895-1980, September - October 1980, no. 17.

Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, William Roberts: England at Play, January - March 2007, not numbered in catalogue.


Exhibition catalogue, William Roberts, R.A. 1895-1980, London, Maclean Gallery, 1980, no. 17, illustrated.

A. Gibbon Williams, William Roberts: An English Cubist, Aldershot, 2004, pp. 102-105, fig. 75.

Collection Catalogue, Jerwood Collection, London 2012 p.34. Illustrated p.12.

On Display

Jerwood Gallery, Hastings - February 2014

Roberts was born in London Fields, Hackney to Edward, a carpenter from Ireland, and Emily, a Londoner. He attended evening classes at St Martin’s School of Art while he was apprenticed to an advertising firm. In 1910 he won a scholarship to study at the Slade School, where he met fellow artist, Jacob Kramer, whose sister, Sarah, Roberts married in 1922. After leaving the Slade in 1913, Roberts travelled in France and Italy and on his return to England was introduced to Roger Fry and began work at the Omega workshop, which was based in Fitzroy Square, where number 22 formerly housed the Jerwood Collection. He left the Omega workshops after a year when he met Wyndham Lewis and joined the Vorticist movement, contributing two illustrations to the first issue of Blast. Roberts, however, preferred the term, English Cubist. During the First World War Roberts served with Royal Field Artillery in France and returned to England to work as an Official War Artist for the Canadian War Records Office and the Ministry of Information. In the early twenties he became friends with T.E.Lawrence and produced drawings to accompany Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He spent summers with the author and painted his portrait in 1922.

His first solo exhibition was held at Chenil Galleries in London and in 1925 he took a part-time teaching post at Central School of Arts and Crafts which he held until 1960. In 1939, he moved to Oxford and was appointed part-time artist by the Artists Advisory Committee. After the war Roberts moved back to London and began exhibiting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He was elected ARA in 1958 and RA in 1966.He reportedly drew and painted every day until his death in 1980. Major exhibitions of his work include: Tate Gallery, London, 1965; Hamet Gallery, London, 1971; Reading Museum and Art Gallery, 1983; and Pallant House Gallery, 2007.The William Roberts Society promotes the appreciation of his work, early member Alan Bennett unveiled a plaque to Roberts at his former home in Camden Town in 2003.