William Dring was a skilled technician, who produced realistic, restrained and smoothly executed images – both as a painter in oil and watercolour, and as a draughtsman, particularly in pastel. While he developed a strong reputation as a sympathetic portraitist – with sitters ranging from family members to the Prince of Wales – he essayed a range of subjects, including landscape and still life. William Dring, known familiarly as John, was born at 33 Kingscourt Road, Streatham, London, on 26 January 1904, the eldest child of William Henry Dring, a compositor for a daily newspaper, and his wife, Ellen (née Croft). His younger brother, James, would also became an artist.
Following schooling in Streatham, Dring studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, between 1922 and 1925, under Henry Tonks. While there, he won several prizes and scholarships – including those for decorative painting and figure drawing – and emerged as a fine draughtsman and painter. His fellow student, Grace Elizabeth Rothwell, known as ‘Gray’, would become his wife.
He made his name with a mural decoration for the restaurant at Lord’s, and this led to similar commissions from the architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Professor A E Richardson.
Following their marriage in 1931, William and Gray Dring moved to Hampshire and, by 1935, had settled at Kenelm’s Cottage, Shawford, south of Winchester. Together they would have one son and two daughters, including Elizabeth, who also became an artist. He taught at Southampton School of Art (and possibly the Southern College of Art, Portsmouth). During the decade, he not only established himself as a portraitist and genre artist in pastels and oils, but was also inspired by the Hampshire countryside to paint landscapes in watercolour. The success of these led to his election as an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1942. (He would become a full member in 1957.)
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Dring began to receive commissions from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. Then, in early 1942, he was appointed an Official War Artist to the Admiralty. He travelled extensively across Britain, producing pastel portraits in Portsmouth, Scotland and the Western Approaches. In late summer 1943, he received a second full-time contract that included more general subjects. His third and final contract, in 1944, led him to produce portraits for the Air Ministry.
By the end of the war, Dring and his family had moved to Windy Ridge, Compton, west of Shawford (and this would remain his home for the rest of his life). Having been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1944, he soon became a noted exhibitor at the RA, and also took up a position as an assistant teacher at the Royal Academy Schools, where he gained a reputation for exacting standards. A decade later, in 1955, he was elected a full Royal Academician. He also exhibited with leading London dealers, especially Agnews.
Increasingly, Dring focussed on his work as a portraitist, and received many commissions for official portraits – including Sir Oliver Franks in 1962 and the Prince of Wales in 1973 – as well as depicting royal occasions.
Agnews mounted a major retrospective of Dring’s work in 1990. However, he was unable to attend due to illness, and died later the same year, on 27 September.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the Imperial War Museums and the National Maritime Museum.