William Roberts

In the Straight

Watercolour and pencil: 10(h) x 13.7(w) in /

25.4(h) x 34.9(w) cm

Signed lower right: William/Roberts

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BJ 191



1895 – London – 1980


In the Straight


Signed lower right: William Roberts

Watercolour and pencil: 10 x 13 ¾ in / 25.4 x 34.9 cm

Frame size: 17 ½ x 21 ¼ in / 44.4 x 54 cm


Painted c. 1949



The Leicester Galleries, London,

Ernest Cooper, acquired from the above in November 1949

Sale, Christie’s, London, 3rd November 1967, lot 119

Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 16th June 1976, lot 94

Private collection, UK



London, The Leicester Galleries, Exhibition of Works by William Roberts, November 1949, cat. no. 3



In the Straight is one of four known compositions by William Roberts on horse-racing subjects. The Paddock (Bradford Art Gallery) and Before the Race (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff) date from the late twenties and have an emphasis on the interaction between the various types of people that racing brings together – jockeys, owners and punters. The quite different compositions of In the Straight and Cantering to the Post, both from around 1949, demonstrate Roberts’s engagement with the depiction of horses’ movements on a two-dimensional surface. In Cantering to the Post (Tate Gallery) Roberts adopts the compressed perspective of a ‘three-quarters front’ viewpoint to create a composition which is in many ways satisfying and exciting. However, the unusual ‘side-on’ viewpoint of In the Straight creates an interesting ‘Muybridge-esque’ record of an instant in a race as if it were recorded by a photograph, and leaves the viewer free to explore the composition’s various contrasting elements. Cantering to the Post was submitted to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1949. According to Roberts, although it was accepted by the Hanging Committee it was not hung, ‘perhaps because only the Munnings’ breed of Race horse is allowed to show its Paces there’ (letter quoted on the Tate website). In 1951 it became Roberts’s first painting to be purchased by the Tate Gallery. In the Straight was first exhibited in November 1949, in Roberts’s one-man show ‘New Drawings, Satirical and Otherwise’, when it was purchased by Ernest Cooper, the owner of a successful health-food business based in Wigmore Street (the London Health Centre), whose portrait by Roberts had been exhibited at the Royal Academy that summer. Cooper was to become Roberts’s chief patron, eventually acquiring some 20 oils and nearly 50 other works.


In addition to racehorses, other kinds of horses became the subject of Roberts’s work. In 1916 Roberts enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. Grooming, feeding and caring for the

gun horses was an important part of his work . As Roberts and the horses moved from basic training to active service on the Western Front he became intimately aware of the mutual dependence of the gunners and their animals. Roberts’s paintings ‘Feeds Round!’ Stable-time in the Wagon-lines, France (1922), in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, and Grooming Horses (c.1916) in the Government Art Collection, document this aspect of his military life. In the early 1940s Roberts lived for some time in rural Oxfordshire, and horses in a local gypsy camp and the shire horses he saw working in the fields became the subject of paintings. The ceremonial role of horses was celebrated in Roberts’s spectacular Trooping the Colour (1958–9), also owned by the Tate Gallery.


David Cleall


Wililam Roberts, Cantering to the Post, 1949

Oil on canvas: 61 x 50.8 cm

Tate, London 2014

Estate of John David Roberts.

By permission of the William Roberts Society



 1895 – London – 1980


Born in Hackney on the 5th June 1895, William Roberts was apprenticed to the poster designing and advertising firm of Sir Joseph Causton Ltd in 1909, while attending evening classes at St Martin’s School of Art, London.  In 1910, Roberts won a London County Council Scholarship in drawing to the Slade School of Art and remained there for the next three years becoming friends with fellow students David Bomberg and Jacob Kramer (other Slade contemporaries included CW Nevinson, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash).  Following his studies, he travelled to Italy and France in 1913 before briefly joining Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops.  In 1914, Roberts met Wyndham Lewis who borrowed two of his pictures to hang at the Rebel Art Centre and convinced him to join their rival establishment.  Roberts became part of Lewis’s circle, which included Edward Wadsworth, Frederick Etchells and Cuthbert Hamilton, joining them for meetings and dinners (later recalled by Roberts in his painting The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring 1915 (1961-2, Tate, London).  He was one of a list of signatories to the Vorticist Manifesto in the first issue of Blast, published in June 1914 and exhibited at the Vorticist exhibitions of 1915 in London and 1917 in New York.


On the 4th March 1916, Roberts joined the Royal Field Artillery as a gunner and went to France in July.  He returned to England in April 1918 as an Official War Artist, having painted The First German Gas Attack at Ypres (1918, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) for the Canadian War Records Office. He was joined in Percy Street by Sarah Kramer, the sister of Ukrainian-born artist Jacob Kramer (1892-1962). Their only son John was born in 1919 and Roberts demobilised the same year.


In 1920, Roberts met T.E. Lawrence and started making drawings for his edition of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (published 1926).  He held his first one-man exhibition at the Chenil Galleries in 1923.  Roberts became a visiting teacher at the Central School of Art, London in 1925 and continued there until the outbreak of war, when the family moved to Oxford.  During the war he taught one day a week at the Oxford Technical School.  In 1946 Roberts moved back to London, near Regents Park, and continued teaching at the Central School of Art.   From 1948, he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy and continued to do so every year until his death.  In 1956-8 he published The Vortex Pamphlets in response to the Wyndham Lewis exhibition at the Tate Gallery.  In 1958 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, and a Royal Academician in 1966.




Post War BritishWilliam Roberts