East was born in Kettering, and after years of involvement in the family's boot manufacturing business trained at the School of Art, Glasgow, and Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris and became a painter. In April 1888 he shared an exhibition at the Fine Art Society with TS Gotch and T Ingram. In 1889 he was commmissioned to spend six months painting the landscape and people of Japan. The subsequent Fine Art Society exhibition of 104 paintings from this tour was a great success. East published a book, 'The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour', in which he observed that: "The greatest errors in landscape painting are to be found - contradictory as it may appear - not so much in the matter of technique, as in the painter's attitude towards Nature."