William George Rawlinson was the son of the Taunton silk mill owner William Rawlinson and Harriet Jeboult. He himself was a silk merchant, as well as a collector and writer on Turner. In 1867 he married May Margherita Cridland, the daughter of Rev. Alexander Cridland, incumbent of Hensall-cum-Heck, Snaith, Yorkshire. They had one son and three daughters.
Rawlinson became a partner in the London silk firm James Pearsall and Co. and helped to establish an embroidery-silk trade in Britain. Along with Sir Thomas Wardle of Leek, he revived old methods of silk dyeing with natural dyes from the East.
In 1878 Rawlinson, a collector of Turner drawings and engravings, produced a catalogue of the Liber Studiorum. He produced a further two volumed catalogue, The Engraved Work of J. M. W. Turner, R.A. (1908-1913). He also contributed notes to a 1902 catalogue at the Burlington Fine Arts Club of English mezzotint portraits and wrote on Turner's watercolours for a special number of the Studio in 1909.
Rawlinson also collected early nineteenth century coloured aquatints and blue and white Chinese porcelain, as well as buying a number of works by JW. He bought Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach (YMSM 119) from C. A. Howell for £100 or 100 guineas. Pennell implied that this was in 1877. Rawlinson had it varnished and reframed by the picture restorer Signor Buggiani under JW's supervision. By December 1887 'patches' had appeared on the painting (#05116) and JW offered to return the price paid or paint a new one. Rawlinson replied that he wanted another one like it. He also asked for a set of JW's Venice etchings (#05117). He sent Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach (YMSM 119) to Dyce, a picture restorer on Orchard Street (#05119), and it came back 'very beautiful again' (#05123).
Rawlinson was a member of the Burlington Fine Arts Club from 1872 to 1921. At his home Hill Lodge on Campden Hill, he and his wife played host to a large circle of friends, including many writers and artists. In the late 1870s they made numerous invitations for JW to join them for lunch and dinner and JW in turn attempted to persuade them to attend his Sunday morning breakfasts (#08112).
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Lugt, Frits, Les marques de collections de dessins et d'estampes: marques estampillèes et écrites de collections particulières et publiques; marques de marchands, de monteurs et d'imprimeurs; etc..., Amsterdam, 1921, no. 2624; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Dictionary of National Biography Online, Oxford, 1997 (accessed 2003).