Bernard Meninsky (née Menushkin) was born into a Jewish family in Karotopin, Ukraine in 1891 and brought to England by his parents when he was six weeks old, settling in Liverpool. After leaving school in 1902 he took evening classes in art and in 1906 won a scholarship to the Liverpool School of Art, also taking summer courses at the Royal College of Art (1909 and 1910). In 1911 he won a travel scholarship to study for three months at the Académie Julian in Paris and left Liverpool with the King's medal. In 1912 he entered London's Slade School of Fine Art on a scholarship, meeting several 'Whitechapel Boys' including David Bomberg and Mark Gertler. In 1913 he briefly taught drawing in Italy, then returned to London to teach at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (where his pupils included Clara Klinghoffer), also joining the London Group the same year. In May 1914 Bomberg and Jacob Epstein included four Meninskys in the so-called 'Jewish section' in a wider show of modern art at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. In August, following the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted, joining the Royal Fusiliers; he was posted in England as a clerk but in 1918 suffered a nervous breakdown, was discharged on medical grounds and held a six-month war artist's appointment with the Ministry of Information.


In 1919 he returned to teaching at the Central, was elected to the London Group, and held his first solo exhibition of Mother and Child Drawings at the Goupil Gallery London; the following year he also began to teach life drawing evening classes at the Westminster School of Art. He was elected to the New English Art Club in 1923 and held further solo London shows at: the Mayor Gallery (1926), Lefevre (1926), St George's (1930), Zwemmer's (1934, 1936) and Leger (1945, 1948). He favoured the mother and child theme, also painting portraits, figures - latterly in a monumental, neo-classical style - and landscapes, which became dark and atmospheric in the 1920s and 1930s. He suffered several mental breakdowns between 1931 and 1934; during the Second World War he moved to Oxford and taught at the City School of Art, returning to London and the Central in 1945. His illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and I Penseroso were published in 1946. He suffered a further breakdown in 1949 and committed suicide in 1950. A memorial exhibition was held by the Arts Council in 1950 and further solo shows were held posthumously at Ben Uri Gallery (1957) and many other galleries; a touring retrospective was held in Oxford, Coventry, and London in 1981.