The painter William Windus was born in Liverpool. His interest in art started when aged 16, when a local portrait painter, William Daniels, came to paint his stepfather. The young Windus attempted a portrait also, and his talent impressed Daniels, who took him on for drawing lessons. He then went to the Antique School of the Liverpool Academy Schools, and then took life classes under Herbert of Liverpool. A visit to London in 1850 allowed him to see Pre-Raphaelite pictures, and he was converted to the genre, though Rossetti thought that 'Windus has no business to turn Pre-Raphaelite; he paints too well to need any change'. The result of Windus' conversion was his picture Burd Helen, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856. Rossetti spotted it, Ruskin approved of it, and Windus had made a reputation.
Windus painted several other Pre-Raphaelite pictures, most notably Too Late (1859), his only other picture exhibited at the Royal Academy, The Outlaw, and the geological The Stray Lamb. Other work included portraits, and Shakespearean subjects. The death of his wife in 1862 left Windus with a baby daughter to bring up, and being of some independent means, he felt able to more or less abandon art. He went to live first near Preston, and then in 1879, burned his studies and sketches and moved to London. Ford Madox Brown wrote some ten years later that 'He lives almost wholly by himself. He will not paint; he sometimes begins to do so in the morning, but he invariably rubs out his work in the evening, and contents himself with reading only Latin'.
Burd Helen is in the collection of the Tate Gallery, and most of his other principle pictures, including Too Late are in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. The Outlaw is in Manchester.