Born in Churchwater, Norfolk, William Ratcliffe studied design at Manchester School of Art under Walter Crane. He then worked for nearly 20 years as a wall-paper designer. In 1906 after moving to Letchworth where he met the artist, Harold Gilman, Ratcliffe resumed painting. He studied at the Slade School in 1910, exhibited at the Allied Artists Association from 1911 and associated with the Fitzroy Group and Camden Town Group. In 1913 he co-founded the London Group. After 1921 Ratcliffe focused more on watercolour and wood engraving. His first solo exhibition was held at Roland Browse and Delbanco Galleries in London (1946). He died in Hampstead, London in 1955.
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