William Dering


(d. c. 1751)
was a Tidewater, Virginia, portrait painter whose career roughly spanned the period between the departure of portraitist Charles Bridges (1670–1747) fromWilliamsburg about 1743 to 1744, and the first sojourn in Virginia in 1751 made by the Philadelphia painter John Hesselius (c. 1728–1778). Biographical informationabout Dering is virtually non-existent, but what is known about his activities has been gleaned from newspaper advertisements, court records, ledgers, and journalentries.Dering was in Philadelphia in 1735 when he opened a school in which he taught dancing, reading, writing, embroidery, and French. He arrived in Gloucester County,Virginia, by 1737, then moved to nearby Williamsburg, where he lived from 1742 to 1749. In Williamsburg, Dering acquired a house located on the Palace Green,advertised himself as a “Dancing-Master,” and organized balls and assemblies in Williamsburg as well as at the plantation houses of the Carter and Byrd families, atwhich he sometimes also provided the music. Plagued by debts and other legal problems, Dering left Williamsburg for Charleston, South Carolina, but it is not knownwhether he painted there.Dering owned two hundred prints and a “paint box” in 1745, which he probably acquired from Bridges. Dering certainly knew of the older painter’s work, whichmay have encouraged him to add portrait painting to his repertoire and to establish himself as Bridges’ successor. Dering’s portraits show his debt to Bridges as well asto English mezzotints, in his use of half-length figures in elegant poses, sometimes framed in oval spandrels, and an emphasis on the play of light on fabrics. Dering couldalso depart from these models and be unexpectedly innovative, as is seen in his portrait of George Booth. Less than a dozen works signed by or attributed to Deringare known, suggesting that his output was small and that painting for the artist was a sideline.Dering does not fit the accepted definitions of folk artist. He emulated the prevailing academic style and was patronized by some of the wealthiest and most prominent members of Virginia’s planter elite. Despite his limited grasp of London models and his modest skills, the scarcity of artists in the colony capable of paintingan acceptable likeness certainly contributed to his success there. Portraiture was but one of Dering’s creative interests, each of which provides insights into attitudesabout personal refinement within his patrons’ social class. His legacy as a painter may be to act as a link in the history of colonial portraiture in the South, rather than asan artist who influenced the succeeding generation of painters.
See also
Painting, American Folk
Craven, Wayne.
Colonial American Portraiture.
Cambridge, England, 1986.Hood, Graham.
Charles Bridges and William Dering, Two Virginia Painters, 1735–1750.
Williamsburg and Charlottesville, Va., 1978