Born in Hopedale, Massachusetts in 1912, Draper attended the National Academy of Design and the Cope Art School in Massachusetts and also studied in France and Spain. Commissioned early in 1942, he created a series of paintings during his coverage of the Aleutians, Bougainville and the Marianas campaigns, many of which later appeared in color reproductions in the National Geographic Magazine. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his meritorious work as a combat artist in the Aleutians and under enemy attack in the South Pacific.
After returning to civilian life, William F. Draper earned an international reputation as a portraitist. His subjects have included John F. Kennedy (1962), the Shah of Iran (1967), James Michener (1979) and Richard M. Nixon (1981), as well as numerous other political, social, and corporate leaders. His work is included in the collections of a number of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.