John Bratby was born in Wimbledon and studied at the Kingston College of Art and the Royal College of Art, 1948-54. He was awarded a bursary to travel to Italy. However this experience worked to a contradictory effect: it affirmed to him his interest in depicting scenes of domestic life, in a brutally realist perspective. He thus became known as part of The Kitchen Sink School by critics.
Bratby taught for a period, first at the Carlisle College of Art (1956) and then at the Royal College of Art in London (1957–8). It was in the 1960s that he began painting portraits of celebrities such as the actress Billie Whitelaw. He became a Royal Academician in 1971, and died in 1992.