William Johnstone Summer, Selkirk About 1927/38/51; dated 1927 © The Estate of William Johnstone


Born 1897
Died 1981
Nationality Scottish
Birth place Scottish

Johnstone was born in Denholm in the Scottish Borders. He worked on the family farm during the First World War, selling up in 1919 to study at Edinburgh College of Art. He went on to the Royal Scottish Academy Schools, winning the Carnegie travelling scholarship in 1925. Most of his professional life was spent teaching in London; he was Principal of Camberwell School of Art from 1938 and Central School of Art from 1947 to 1960. As well as being a highly original painter, he was an influential spokesman for art education and a friend of Hugh MacDiarmid. Johnstone returned to Scotland on his retirement and spent the last two decades of his life painting large abstract works.

Glossary terms

Glossary terms


The term refers to cultural practices that challenge tradition through experimentation and innovation, and is used in the context of modern and particularly twentieth-century art. From the French for ‘vanguard’ or ‘advance guard’ it dates back to the Middle Ages and was strictly a military term referring to those on the front-line, closest to conflict.