William Hankey studied at Chester School of Art under Walter Schroeder, and also the Royal College of Art. Following this he travelled to France to study the works of leading European artists, including Lues Bastien-Lepage, whose work greatly influenced Hankey’s depiction of rural families and scenes.
He began exhibiting in 1895, first with the Royal Academy in London. He held the position of president of the London Sketch Club from 1902 to 1904. Though he was a well-respected watercolourist, it was his etchings that often stood out as his primary works and earned him a reputation of one of the leading British printmakers of his time. He began etching in 1902, later switching to drypoint.
Hankey spent some years in France, studying the landscapes and people of Normandy and Cote d’Azur. After witnessing the effects of the German invasion of France and Belgium in 1914, his work began to focus on the French refugees whose lives were rarely depicted in artistic circles. From 1915 to 1918, he served with with the Artists Rifles, a volunteer regiment of the British Army.
Hankey won a gold medal at the Barcelone International Exhibition in a bronze medal in Chicago. His work is represented in collections both in England and abroad. Exhibitions include: the Royal Academy; the Old Watercolour Society; the New Watercolour Society; the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil Colours. In 1936 he became a member of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours, and was elected president in 1947.