(10 January 1786 - 1 January 1847)
English portraitist, miniature painter and copyist. Derby was born in Birmingham, where he was taught drawing by Joseph Barber. In 1808 he moved to London, where he began his career by making the reduced drawings for the plates of the Stafford Gallery, a set of engravings of the paintings in the Marquess of Stafford's collection, published in four volumes in 1818 with text by William Young Ottley and P. W. Tomkins.
He then pursued a career as portrait and miniature painter, occasionally making watercolour copies of notable pictures, until 1825, when he succeeded William Hilton, R.A., in making the drawings for Lodge's Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain, completed in 1834. This involved copying paintings in collections throughout the country, and in the course of his work Derby obtained many useful introductions. Among his patrons was the Earl of Derby, whose portrait he painted, and who commissioned him to make watercolours after the portraits of his ancestors, from the reign of Henry VII. onwards, which existed in various collections. In 1838 a severe attack of paralysis deprived him of speech and the use of one side of his body, but in a few months he had recovered sufficiently to continue his work, which he did with the assistance of his son, Alfred Thomas Derby.
In an obituary of Derby, the sculptor Peter Hollins singled out his copy of 'Landseer's Return from the Highlands,' as one of his best works:
A portrait in oils by Derby, 'Lady Adelaide Georgiana Fitzclarence as a Child' is at Petworth House.
Between 1811 and 1842 he exhibited 49 works at the Royal Academy, 16 at the British Institution and 15 at the Society of British Artists. They included portraits in oil, still lifes, and miniatures.
He died in Osnaburgh Street, London, survived by his widow and eight children.[Currer, Frances Mary Richardson (1833); A Catalogue of the Library Collected by Miss Richardson Currer at Eshton hall. London.; Hollins, Peter (June 1847); "Mr. William Derby"; Gentleman's Magazine 27, reprinted from The Art Journal; Graves, Algernon (1884); A Dictionary of Artists who have Exhibited Works in the Principal London Exhibitions of Oil Paintings from 1760 to 1880. London, George Bell and Sons; Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers by Michael Bryan, 1886–1889; Graves, Robert Edmund (1888); "Derby, William", Stephen, Leslie; Dictionary of National Biography, London: Smith, Elder & Co.]
DERBY, WILLIAM (1786–1847), water-colour painter, was born at Birmingham on 10 Jan. 1786. He learned the rudiments of drawing in his native town from Joseph Barber [q. v.], the father of John Vincent Barber, the landscape-painter. In 1808 he came to London, diffident of his own abilities, and commenced his career by engaging to make the reduced drawings for the plates of the ‘Stafford Gallery.’ With indefatigable diligence he pursued portrait and miniature painting, and occasionally made water-colour copies of fine pictures, until 1825, when he succeeded William Hilton, R.A., in making the drawings for Lodge's ‘Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain,’ completed in 1834. The originals of these portraits were scattered through various galleries in the United Kingdom, and Derby thus obtained many valuable introductions. Among his patrons was the Earl of Derby, whose portrait he painted, and by whom he was commissioned to make water-colour drawings of the portraits of his ancestors from the reign of Henry VII., which exist in different collections throughout the country. This interesting series of drawings is now at Knowsley Hall. In 1838 a severe attack of paralysis deprived him of speech and the use of one side, but in a few months he rallied and with the assistance of his son, Alfred Thomas [q. v.], resumed his work with undiminished power. One of the most beautiful of his drawings was a copy in water-colours of Landseer's ‘Return from the Highlands,’ the original of which is in the collection of the Marquis of Lansdowne at Bowood. Between 1811 and 1842 he exhibited eighty portraits in oil, subjects of still life, and miniatures at the Royal Academy (chiefly), at the British Institution, and at the Society of British Artists. As an artist he possessed powers of considerable range, but these appear to most advantage in his exquisite water-colour copies, in which, while not neglecting details, he caught the spirit of each particular master.
He died in Osnaburgh Street, Regent's Park, London, 1 Jan. 1847. He was independent in character, courteous in manners, and ardent in the pursuit of art, and by patient industry he secured an honourable position. There are two studies by him in water-colours, ‘A Fisherman’ and ‘A Man holding a Book,’ in the South Kensington Museum. Some miniatures of the Stanley family and a drawing from life in water-colours of John Flaxman, the sculptor, were in the Loan Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures at South Kensington in 1865. Portraits in oil of George, third earl of Egremont; Edward, thirteenth earl of Derby; and James Scarlett, first lord Abinger, were in the National Portrait Exhibition of 1868.[Memoir by Peter Hollins, the sculptor, in Art Journal, 1847, reprinted in Gent. Mag. 1847; Catalogues of the Exhibitions of the Royal Academy, British Institution (Living Artists), and Society of British Artists, 1811–42; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14, Derby, William by Robert Edmund Graves]