William Coldstream was born in 1908 in Northumberland, the youngest child of Dr George Coldstream and his wife Lilian. After being home tutored and failing examinations to study medicine at university, he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1926 until 1929. Studying under Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer, and alongside Victor Pasmore, he was influenced by C.zanne, Matisse, Degas, Sickert and Grant. In 1934 he joined the G.P.O. (General Post Office) Film Unit making documentaries, returning to full-time painting in 1937. That same year he founded with Claude Rogers, Victor Pasmore and, unofficially, Graham Bell, the Euston Road School, which become a seminal influence upon figurative painting. The school dissolved upon the outbreak of WWII during which Coldstream served first as a Camouflage Officer and then as an Official War Artist, working as a portraitist in the Middle East.
After travelling through Italy at the end of the war, Coldstream joined the teaching staff at Camberwell and, in 1949, was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art. Coldstream brought to the teaching staff of the Slade Claude Rogers, Rudolph Wittkower, Ernst Gombrich, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Ceri Richards, Reg Butler, Phillip King, Patrick George and Euan Uglow. He was Vice-Chairman of the Arts Council, a Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Chairman of the British Film Institute, a Trustee of the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, delivered two ‘Coldstream Reports’ in 1960 and 1970 on art school education reform, and was awarded a CBE in 1952 and a knighthood in 1956. Coldstream had exhibitions at the South London Art Gallery, Camberwell, in 1962, organised by the Arts Council, which toured the UK, at Anthony d’Offay in 1976 and 1984, and a retrospective at the Tate in 1990. His work is held in national and international public and private collections. Coldstream had unparalleled influence upon generations of artists as a figurehead of arts education but also as an artist in his own right, transforming the scope of figurative painting in post-war Britain. He died in 1987.