William Dring RA (1904-1990)

Dring was born in Streatham, London, the eldest son of a newspaper compositor. Known familiarly as John, he was educated locally before enrolling at the Slade School of Art in 1922. There he studied under the legendary Henry Tonks, the formidable surgeon-draughtsman who had formed the early artistic skills of Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, Augustus and Gwen John, Wyndham Lewis, William Orpen and countless others. Whilst at the Slade, Dring won several prizes and scholarships for decorative painting and figure drawing, emerging as a fine draughtsman and painter. A fellow student, Grace Elizabeth Rothwell, caught his eye and they were married in 1931.

In the late 1920s Dring was commissioned by the architects Edwin Lutyens and Albert Edward Richardson to paint a number of murals for their projects. For most of the next decade he taught drawing and painting at Southampton School of Art.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the British Ministry of Information established the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) under the young Director of the National Gallery Kenneth Clark. Its aim was to compile a comprehensive artistic record of Britain throughout the war. To this end official war artists were appointed and sent to specific theatres of operation. When the committee was dissolved in December 1945 its collection consisted of 5,570 works of art produced by over four hundred artists. This collection was then distributed to museums and institutions in Britain and around the world, with over half of the collection, some 3,000 works, going to the Imperial War Museum.

Dring wrote to the WAAC in September 1940 offering some works, also asking for help finding wartime employment as an artist. A further recommendation came from the RA Secretary William Lamb. The Committee purchased a picture of Dring's which appeared in the Royal Academy exhibition and over the next few years, he was given numerous small commissions for portraits, and also submitted many works which were often purchased at the 10-20 Gns level.

In early 1942, Dring was offered a six-month commission as a salaried portrait artist. As the excellent IWM website relates “He sought release for this period from his post teaching at Southampton School of Art but there was a dispute and he had to resign to take up the WAAC commission, at the risk that he might then be called up for military service if the contract was not extended. The contract began in June and involved some travel around the country, [specialising in Admiralty portraits] as far as the Orkneys. His contract was renewed in January 1943, for 6 months working on Admiralty subjects, and again in September 1943, to work on "general subjects" chosen by the WAAC. Again, in January 1944, he was given a further two months' contract. During this latter period in particular, there was much correspondence regarding the possible call-up of Dring, from which his salaried position exempted him. A further Air Ministry commission completed his service, although there is very little detail on file of the work done under this contract.”

Sixty-four of Drings war-time portraits, mostly pastels are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, who also hold five oil paintings by him. There are a further forty of his wartime works at the National Maritime Museum, mostly pastel portraits.

After the War, now an associate member of the Royal Academy and in 1955 a full Academician, Dring took up a position as an assistant teacher at the Royal Academy Schools, where he gained a reputation for exacting standards. Commercially he enjoyed a successful career as a portrait painter and fine artist. His paintings were exhibited successfully with various leading London dealers, notably Agnew’s who mounted his retrospective in 1990, shortly before he died.

His illustrious sitters included HM The Queen Mary, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, HRH The Prince of Wales as a Flight Lieutenant, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, Lord Hailsham, Margaret Thatcher and a plethora of academic and civic leaders. He was commissioned to paint a number of royal occasions most memorably the christening of HRH Prince Charles The Prince of Wales.

His work is represented in numerous public collections, notably that of HM The Queen and in no order of significance, Derby Museum & Art Gallery; Southampton City Art Gallery; King’s College, London; the Royal United Services Institute; the Defence Academy of the UK; Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; the Laing Art Gallery; Victoria Gallery & Museum; the National Coal Mining Museum; Barts; the Royal Air Force Museum; Dudley Museum; the Atkinson Art Gallery; the Guildhall Art Gallery, London; Lincoln’s Inn; the Ferens Art Gallery and of course the Imperial War Museum.

William Dring RA (1904-1990)