Born in Suffolk, he did not take up painting seriously until he was in his thirties. As a young man he was an important and innovative photographer and was a member of The Linked Ring group of avant-garde photographers and was closely associated with Alvin Langdon Coburn. He set up his own photographic studio in 1906 and worked freelance for papers such as Illustrated London News and Sketch and he became a prominent portrait photographer. When commissioned by the Goupil Gallery to photograph notable artists of the day, he came into contact with Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists who were to influence his painting style. In 1914 he was a signatory to the Vorticist manifesto and was active in the promotion of Post-Impressionism, arranging an exhibition in Liverpool. After the First World War he closed his photographic studio and concentrated exclusively on painting and sculpture developing a stylised cubist style using strong colour. While living in France he showed some bronzes at the Paris Salon, and he was also to show at the RA, ROI, Leicester Galleries and extensively elsewhere. He had a one-man show at the Fine Art Society and after his death an exhibition was staged by the Grabowski Gallery. He spent the last years of his life living at La Houle in Jersey. Arbuthnot's work is held by public collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum and Salford Art Gallery.