William Lees Judson was born in Manchester England and came to the United States with his family in 1852, living in Brooklyn, New York. His early arts education was from his father who was an artist. Judson served in the military during the Civil War and afterwards studied briefly with John B. Irving (1872-73) in New York. He went to Paris and studied at the Academie Julian from 1878 to 1881.
Around 1890 Judson moved to Chicago where he was active as a portrait painter. Ill health caused him to seek a milder climate, and, in 1893, he came to Los Angeles. He taught at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and began to paint the landscape.
In 1896 he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California as Professor of Drawing and Painting. In 1901 he founded and was made the first dean of the USC College of Fine Arts located on the Arroyo Seco in Garvanza. A fire destroyed the school in December 1910, and it was reported that Judson lost many paintings. The school was immediately rebuilt and Judson continued in his post for the rest of his life.
Judson was a versatile artist. An adept impressionist painter, he was also originator of the Craftsman movement in the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena. The tradition endured, and the Judson Studios still produce excellent stained-glass windows in the original Judson home in Pasadena.
Judson was a member of the California Art Club and the Laguna Beach Art Association. Judson held exhibitions at the California Midwinter Exposition, 1894 and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1918.
His awards include a bronze medal at a London exhibition in 1886, a bronze medal at the Panama California Exposition in San Diego in 1915, and the Popular Prize at the Southwest Museum in 1921.