William Roberts was born in Hackney, London. In 1909 he took up an apprenticeship intending to become a poster designer. He attended evening classes at Saint Martin's School of Art in London and won a scholarship to the Slade School of Art in 1910. His contemporaries included a number of brilliant young students, among them Dora Carrington, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer. William was intrigued by post-impressionism and cubism. In 1916 he enlisted in the Royal Artillery and in 1918 was 'loaned' to the Canadians for six months as an official war artist. He became a portrait artist between the wars and eventually settled into his Primrose Hill house that was to be his home for the rest of his life.