Gordon, William Robert (1872–1955), painter, was born 19 August 1872 at Ballynahinch, Co. Down, the son of William Gordon, a gardener, and Nancy Gordon (née Moffat). He was educated at the Southwell school, Downpatrick, before going to England at age 14 to work in the Port Sunlight soap factory in Birkenhead. During his spare time, he studied locally at the Laird school of art, where he qualified as an art teacher. On his return to Belfast, he worked in the shipyards, while studying at the school of design under George Trobridge (1851–1909); he became a textile designer, but did not like the trade. He exhibited a painting, ‘Coast near Whiteabbey’, at the Belfast Art Society in 1899. In 1901 he became art master at the RBAI; remaining at the school till 1945, he was known as ‘Daddy’ among the students. He also taught evening classes at Newtownards technical school. He was a secretary of the School of Art sketching club in 1902, and rehearsed his dramatic pieces in the society's rooms at Queen St., Belfast. A founding member in 1902 of the Ulster Arts Club, he was its first secretary, and its president (1914–15). A founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre (1904), he played the role of William John McKinstry in ‘The enthusiast’ by David Parkhill (qv) in the Clarence Hall, Belfast, in 1905; a caricature of Gordon in this role by Normon Morrow (qv) appeared in the theatre's publication, Uladh (1905). In 1909 Gordon performed in ‘The turn of the road’ by Samuel Waddell (qv) at the Grand Opera House, Belfast.
To supplement his income Gordon painted banners for the Orange and Hibernian lodges. The banner he designed for the Belfast Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers (c.1920) (now held in the Ulster Museum, Belfast) depicts in an architectural framework St Joseph with female figures of art and industry. First exhibiting at the RHA in 1921 with ‘Glenariff, Co. Antrim’, he continued to exhibit there till 1947. He exhibited a watercolour, ‘The lake, Belvoir Park’, at the Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Belfast (1921). He painted the decorative friezes for the Ulster pavilion at the Wembley exhibition of 1924, and designed the official standard of the governor of Northern Ireland. His portraits were shown at an exhibition entitled ‘Irish portraits by Ulster artists’ in Belfast in 1927. He exhibited at the Ulster Academy of Arts (1931–48), showing ‘Springtime in the glens’ in 1934, and at the Royal Ulster Academy (1950–53).
In 1933 he was commissioned by the Thomas Haverty trust to paint three decorative murals with John Hunter (qv) for the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, depicting ‘The bronze age in Ireland’; his contribution, completed in 1934, portrays a barter scene between early Irish traders and Phoenicians. He became a member of the Ulster Unit when it was formed from the Northern Ireland Guild of Artists (1934), and was elected a vice-president of the Belfast Old Instonians Association (1946). Participating in a joint exhibition with Morris Harding at the Belfast Municipal Art Gallery in 1949, he showed topographical paintings of the glens of Antrim, which marked his artistic development. He was appointed an academician of the Ulster Academy of Arts (1949), and sat on the art advisory committee of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) (c.1949). In 1952 he held an exhibition of his paintings at the Art Gallery, 55a Donegall Place, Belfast.
Gordon's paintings, including ‘Drifters at Portaferry’, were represented at a CEMA exhibition of Irish artists at the Belfast Art Gallery in 1953. His 1954 solo exhibition at the Belfast Art Gallery included ‘Scotch Street, Downpatrick’. A broadcaster with the BBC, Belfast, he was also a folk singer and musician. As a member of the libraries, museums, and arts committee, he encouraged the cultivation of modern art in Ulster. He and his wife Elizabeth had one daughter. He died 25 February 1955 at his home at 9 Sicily Park, Finaghy, Belfast, and was buried in Roselawn cemetery. A self-portrait is in the Ulster Arts Club. The Ulster Museum marked the centenary of his birth in 1972 with a display of his work. Some of his landscape watercolours, such as ‘Clady bridge, Glendun’ and ‘Downpatrick’, are in the Ulster Museum.