Born in Iowa in 1930, William Bailey attended the School of Fine Arts at the University of Kansas. He earned both Bachelors and a Masters degrees in Fine Arts from the Yale University School of Art.
Bailey taught at Indiana University and Yale University where he briefly served as Dean of the School of Art. Since 1979, he has served as the Kingman Brewster Professor of Art at the Yale University School of Art.
Bailey is best known for his paintings, prints and drawings of still life and of the figure. Bailey is an elected member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.