Colonial Williamsburg acquisition highlights local artist

Although only a few of his creations remain, an artist who lived in 18th century Williamsburg endures through a portrait passed down through generations. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation announced Monday that the 21st century descendants of the painting’s subject, Joyce Armistead Booth, donated the heirloom to display at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

The oil painting by William Dering dates back to roughly 1745, and the canvas measures more than 4 feet tall. It joins four other Dering paintings — out of six known to have survived into 2018 — at the foundation. A future exhibition at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will highlight the collection.

Ronald Hurst, the foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation and museums, lauded the “visually arresting” painting’s use of saturated reds, blues and golds.

“The portrait commands the viewer’s attention, and in so doing, provides a window into the goals and aspirations of early Virginia’s planter aristocracy,” he said.

Dering left Philadelphia and arrived in Williamsburg in 1737. The same year, he opened a dancing school at the College of William and Mary and advertised the occasion in The Virginia Gazette.

Dering eventually found himself in debt, forcing him to mortgage his home near the Governor’s Palace. He departed for Charleston, South Carolina, but his wife and son stayed behind for a year to handle the sale of his possessions; little is known about the family after 1750.

The donors, Julia Miles Brock, Edward Taliaferro Miles and Georginana Serpell Miles, dedicated the occasion to the memory of their mother.

“My brother, sister and I decided it was time she was in a museum with its attendant care, proper storage and an appreciative audience,” Brock said.

Colonial Williamsburg’s other Dering paintings include a portrait of George Booth, Joyce Armistead Booth’s son, and another depicting Elizabeth Buckner Stith, the artist’s only known painting that’s signed and dated. Foundation research will examine the paintings individually and as a group.

“Rare early works by local artists such as William Dering expand the depth and breadth of our collections and better enable us to share America’s enduring story,” Mitchell Reiss, the foundation’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “We are particularly grateful for gifts such as this since they allow us to teach history in a very human and personal way.”

Birkenmeyer can be reached by email at, by phone at 757-790-3029 or on Twitter @sethbirkenmeyer.

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