Muirhead Bone was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1876. His brother was James Bone, who later worked as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian. Bone was trained as an architect but worked as a etcher and watercolour artist. Bone settled in London in 1901 where he became a member of the New English Art Club.
On the outbreak of the First World War, the government minister, Charles Masterman, became the head of the War Propaganda Bureau (WPB). At first the WPB concentrated on producing pamphlets. Masterman was aware that the right sort of pictures would help the war effort. In May 1916 Masterman recruited Bone as Britain's first official war artist. Commissioned as an honorary second lieutenant, Bone arrived in France during the Battle of the Somme.
After completing 150 drawings of the war, Bone returned to England in October, 1916. Bone was then replaced by his brother-in-law, Francis Dodd. Over the next few months Bone drew pictures of shipyards and battleships. He visited France again in 1917 where he took particular interest in the ruined towns and villages.