Joseph Wright of Derby
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Joseph Wright (3 September 1734 – 29 August 1797), styled Joseph Wright of Derby, was an English landscape and portrait painter. He has been acclaimed as "the first professional painter to express the spirit of the
Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States, that occurred during the period from around 1760 to about 1820–1840. This transition included going fr ...
". Wright is notable for his use of tenebrism, an exaggerated form of the better known
chiaroscuro Chiaroscuro ( , ; ), in art, is the use of strong contrast (vision), contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts ...

chiaroscuro
effect, which emphasizes the contrast of light and dark, and for his paintings of candle-lit subjects. His paintings of the birth of science out of
alchemy Alchemy (from Arabic: ''al-kīmiyā''; from Ancient Greek: χυμεία, ''khumeía'') is an ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscience, protoscientific tradition that was historically practiced in Chinese alchemy, C ...
, often based on the meetings of the
Lunar Society of Birmingham The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a British dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 18 ...
, a group of scientists and industrialists living in the English Midlands, are a significant record of the struggle of science against religious values in the period known as the
Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment or the Enlightenment; german: Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie, "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, La Ilustración, "Enlightenment" was an intel ...
. Many of Wright's paintings and drawings are owned by
Derby City Council Derby City Council is the local government unitary authority for Derby, a city in the East Midlands region of England. It comprises 51 councillors, three for each of the 17 electoral wards of Derby. Currently there is no overall control of the co ...
, and are on display at the
Derby Museum and Art Gallery Derby Museum and Art Gallery is a museum and Art museum, art gallery in Derby, England. It was established in 1879, along with Derby Central Library, in a new building designed by Richard Knill Freeman and given to Derby by Michael Thomas Bass. ...
.


Life

Joseph Wright was born in Irongate,
Derby Derby ( ) is a City status in the United Kingdom, city and Unitary authorities of England, unitary authority area in Derbyshire, England. It lies on the banks of the River Derwent, Derbyshire, River Derwent in the south of Derbyshire, which is ...

Derby
, to a respectable family of lawyers. He was the third of five children of Hannah Brookes (1700–1764) and John Wright (1697–1767), an attorney and the town clerk of Derby. Joseph had two elder brothers, John and Richard Wright. Deciding to become a painter, as a seventeen-year old youth Wright went to
London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary dow ...

London
in 1751 and for two years studied under Thomas Hudson, the master of
Joshua Reynolds Sir Joshua Reynolds (16 July 1723 – 23 February 1792) was an English painter, specialising in portraits. John Russell (art critic), John Russell said he was one of the major European painters of the 18th century. He promoted the Grand manner, ...

Joshua Reynolds
. Wright acknowledged that he was also influenced by Alexander Cozens and applied his composition ideas to paintings. After painting portraits for a while in Derby, the young Wright again worked as an assistant to Hudson for fifteen months. In 1753 he returned to, and settled in Derby. He varied his work in portraiture by the production of subjects with strong tenebrism under artificial light, with which his name is chiefly associated, and by landscape painting. Wright also spent a productive period in
Liverpool Liverpool is a City status in the United Kingdom, city and metropolitan borough in Merseyside, England. With a population of in 2019, it is the List of English districts by population, 10th largest English district by population and its E ...

Liverpool
, from 1768 to 1771, painting portraits. These included pictures of a number of prominent citizens and their families. Having established himself in his profession Wright married Ann (also known as Hannah) Swift, the daughter of a Derbyshire lead miner, on 28 July 1773. Wright set off in 1773 with John Downman, a newly pregnant Ann Wright, and Richard Hurleston for Italy. Their ship took shelter for three weeks in
Nice Nice ( , ; Niçard dialect, Niçard: , classical norm, or , nonstandard, ; it, Nizza ; lij, Nissa; grc, Νίκαια; la, Nicaea) is the prefecture of the Alpes-Maritimes departments of France, department in France. The Nice urban unit, agg ...

Nice
before they completed their outward voyage in
Livorno Livorno () is a port city on the Ligurian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Livorno, having a population of 158,493 residents in December 2017. It is traditionally known in English as Leghorn (pronou ...

Livorno
in Italy in February 1774. Downman returned to Britain in 1775. Although he spent a great deal of productive time in
Naples Naples (; it, Napoli ; nap, Napule ), from grc, Νεάπολις, Neápolis, lit=new city. is the regional capital of Campania and the third-largest city of Italy, after Rome and Milan, with a population of 909,048 within the city's adminis ...

Naples
, Wright never witnessed any major eruption of
Mount Vesuvius Mount Vesuvius ( ; it, Vesuvio ; nap, 'O Vesuvio , also or ; la, Vesuvius , also , or ) is a Somma volcano, somma-stratovolcano located on the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. ...

Mount Vesuvius
. However, it is possible that he witnessed smaller, less impressive eruptions, which may have inspired many of his subsequent paintings of the volcano. On his return from his working sojourn in Italy he again established himself in England as a portrait-painter, this time at the fashionable spa resort of
Bath Bath may refer to: * Bathing, immersion in a fluid ** Bathtub, a large open container for water, in which a person may wash their body ** Public bathing, a public place where people bathe * Thermae, ancient Roman public bathing facilities Plac ...
. But he met with little encouragement there, and in 1777 returned to Derby where he spent the rest of his life. Over the years he became increasingly asthmatic and nervous about the house, and for these complaints he was treated by his friend and leading medical doctor
Erasmus Darwin Erasmus Robert Darwin (12 December 173118 April 1802) was an English physician. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosophy, natural philosopher, physiology, physiologist, Society for Effecting the ...
. His friendship with Darwin had brought him and his works into the orbit of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, and although he was not a formal member of the Society he can be considered a key artistic influence on the men of the Midlands Enlightenment. In his latter years Wright was a frequent contributor to the exhibitions of the Society of Artists, and to those of the
Royal Academy The Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly in London. Founded in 1768, it has a unique position as an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects. Its purpo ...

Royal Academy
, of which he was elected an associate in 1781 and a full member in 1784. He, however, declined the latter honour on account of a slight that he believed that he had received, and severed his official connection with the Academy, although he continued to contribute to the exhibitions from 1783 until 1794. His wife Ann Wright died on 17 August 1790, having borne six children from the marriage, three of whom had died in infancy. On 29 August 1797 Wright himself died at his new home at No. 28 Queen Street, Derby, where he had spent his final months with his two daughters.


Career and works

Wright is seen at his best in his candlelit subjects of which the '''' (1765), his '' A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery'' (1766), in the
Derby Museum and Art Gallery Derby Museum and Art Gallery is a museum and Art museum, art gallery in Derby, England. It was established in 1879, along with Derby Central Library, in a new building designed by Richard Knill Freeman and given to Derby by Michael Thomas Bass. ...
, and ''
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump ''An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump'' is a 1768 Oil painting, oil-on-canvas painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, one of a number of candlelit scenes that Wright painted during the 1760s. The painting departed from convention of the time by ...

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
'' (1768), in the
National Gallery The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, in Central London, England. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. The current Director of ...

National Gallery
are excellent examples. His ''Old Man and Death'' (1774) is also a striking and individual production. He also painted '' Dovedale by Moonlight'', capturing the rural landscape of a narrow valley called Dovedale, 14 miles northwest of Wright's home town of Derby, at night with a full moon. The painting hangs in the
Allen Memorial Art Museum The Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) is an art museum located in Oberlin, Ohio, and it is run by Oberlin College. Founded in 1917, the collection contains over 15,000 works of art. Overview The AMAM is primarily a teaching museum and is aimed at ...
at
Oberlin College Oberlin College is a Private university, private Liberal arts colleges in the United States, liberal arts college and conservatory of music in Oberlin, Ohio. It is the oldest Mixed-sex education, coeducational liberal arts college in the United S ...
. Its companion piece, ''Dovedale by Sunlight'' (circa 1784–1785) captures the colours of day. In another painting, ''Moonlight Landscape'', in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, equally dramatic, the Moon is obscured by an arched bridge over water, but illuminates the scene, making the water sparkle in contrast to the dusky landscape. Another memorable image from his tour of the
Lake District The Lake District, also known as the Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous for its lakes, forests, and mountains (or ''fells''), and its associations with William Wordswort ...

Lake District
is ''Rydal Waterfall'' of 1795. ''Cave at Evening'' (above) is painted with the same dramatic
chiaroscuro Chiaroscuro ( , ; ), in art, is the use of strong contrast (vision), contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts ...

chiaroscuro
for which Wright is noted. The painting was executed during 1774, while he was staying in Italy. There are similarities to the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston The Museum of Fine Arts (often abbreviated as MFA Boston or MFA) is an art museum An art museum or art gallery is a building or space for the display of art, usually from the museum's own Collection (artwork), collection. It might be in publ ...
's holding, ''Grotto by the Seaside in the Kingdom of Naples with Banditti, Sunset'' (1778).


Painting the British Enlightenment

Wright had close contact with the pioneering industrialists of the English Midlands. Two of his most important patrons were
Josiah Wedgwood Josiah Wedgwood (12 July 1730 – 3 January 1795) was an English Pottery, potter, entrepreneur and abolitionist. Founding the Wedgwood company in 1759, he developed improved pottery bodies by systematic experimentation, and was the leader in t ...

Josiah Wedgwood
, credited with the
industrialization Industrialisation ( alternatively spelled industrialization) is the period of social and economic change that transforms a human group from an agrarian society into an industrial society. This involves an extensive re-organisation of an eco ...
of the manufacture of
pottery Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard and durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and porc ...

pottery
, and
Richard Arkwright Sir Richard Arkwright (23 December 1732 – 3 August 1792) was an English inventor and a leading entrepreneur during the early Industrial Revolution. He is credited as the driving force behind the development of the spinning frame, known as t ...

Richard Arkwright
, regarded as the creator of the
factory system The factory system is a method of manufacturing using machinery and division of labor. Because of the high capital cost of machinery and factory buildings, factories are typically privately owned by wealthy individuals or corporations who emplo ...
in the cotton industry. One of Wright's students, William Tate, was uncle to the eccentric gentleman tunneller, Joseph Williamson, and completed some of Wright's works after his death. Wright also had connections with Erasmus Darwin and other members of the
Lunar Society The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a British dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophy, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly be ...
, which brought together leading industrialists, scientists, and philosophers. Although meetings were held in or near Birmingham, Darwin, grandfather of
Charles Darwin Charles Robert Darwin ( ; 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, widely known for his contributions to evolutionary biology. His proposition that all species of life have descended ...

Charles Darwin
, lived in Derby, and some of the paintings by Wright, which are notable for their use of brilliant light on shade, are of, or were inspired by, Lunar Society gatherings. ''A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery'' (1766) shows an early mechanism for demonstrating the movement of the planets around the Sun. The Scottish scientist James Ferguson (1710–1776) undertook a series of lectures in Derby in July 1762. based on his book ''Lectures on Select Subjects in Mechanics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Optics &c''. (1760). To illustrate his lectures, Ferguson used various machines, models, and instruments. Wright may have attended these talks, especially as tickets were available from John Whitehurst, Wright's close neighbour, a clockmaker and a scientist. Wright also could have drawn on Whitehurst's practical knowledge to learn more about the orrery and its operation. ''An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump'' (1768) shows people gathered to observe an early experiment into the nature of air and its ability to support life. '' The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone'' (1771) depicts the discovery of the element
phosphorus Phosphorus is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol P and atomic number 15. Elemental phosphorus exists in two major forms, white phosphorus and red phosphorus, but because it is highly Reactivity (chemistry), reactive, phosphor ...

phosphorus
by German alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669. A flask in which a large quantity of
urine Urine is a liquid by-product of metabolism in humans and in many other animals. Urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the urinary bladder. Urination results in urine being excretion, excreted from the body through the urethra. Cel ...

urine
has been boiled down is seen bursting into light as the phosphorus, which is abundant in urine, ignites spontaneously in air. These factual paintings are considered to also have metaphorical meaning, the bursting into light of the phosphorus in front of a praying figure signifying the problematic transition from faith to scientific understanding and enlightenment, and the various expressions on the figures around the bird in the air pump indicating concern over the possible inhumanity of the coming age of science. These paintings represent a high point in scientific enquiry that began to undermine the power of religion in Western societies. Some ten years later, scientists would find themselves persecuted in the backlash to the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country primarily located in Western Europe. It also comprises of Overseas France, ...

French Revolution
of 1789.
Joseph Priestley Joseph Priestley (; 24 March 1733 – 6 February 1804) was an English chemist, Natural philosophy, natural philosopher, English Separatist, separatist theologian, Linguist, grammarian, multi-subject educator, and Liberalism, liberal Politi ...
, a member of the Lunar Society, left Britain in 1794 after his Birmingham laboratory was smashed and his house burned down by a mob objecting to his outspoken support for the French Revolution. In France, the chemist
Antoine Lavoisier Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier ( , ; ; 26 August 17438 May 1794), When reduced without charcoal, it gave off an air which supported respiration and combustion in an enhanced way. He concluded that this was just a pure form of common air and th ...

Antoine Lavoisier
was executed by the
guillotine A guillotine is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions by Decapitation, beheading. The device consists of a tall, upright frame with a weighted and angled blade suspended at the top. The condemned person is secured with ...

guillotine
at the height of the Terror. The politician and philosopher
Edmund Burke Edmund Burke (; 12 January ew Style, NS1729 – 9 July 1797) was an Anglo-Irish people, Anglo-Irish Politician, statesman, economist, and philosopher. Born in Dublin, Burke served as a member of Parliament (MP) between 1766 and 1794 in the ...

Edmund Burke
, in his famous ''Reflections on the Revolution in France'' (1790), tied natural philosophers, and specifically Priestley, to the French Revolution; he later wrote in his ''Letter to a Noble Lord'' (1796) that radicals who supported science in Britain "considered man in their experiments no more than they do mice in an air pump". In light of this comment, Wright's painting of the bird in the air pump, completed more than twenty years earlier, seems particularly prescient. It was against this background that
Charles Darwin Charles Robert Darwin ( ; 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, widely known for his contributions to evolutionary biology. His proposition that all species of life have descended ...

Charles Darwin
, grandson of Erasmus Darwin, would add to the conflict between science and religious belief, half a century later, with the publication of his book ''
The Origin of Species ''On the Origin of Species'' (or, more completely, ''On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life''),The book's full original title was ''On the Origin of Species by Me ...
'' in 1859.


Memorials

Wright's birthplace at 28 Irongate, Derby, is commemorated with a representation of an
armillary sphere An armillary sphere (variations are known as spherical astrolabe, armilla, or armil) is a model of astronomical object, objects in the sky (on the celestial sphere), consisting of a spherical framework of wikt:ring, rings, centered on Earth or th ...

armillary sphere
on the pavement nearby. Joseph Wright was buried in the grounds of St Alkmund's Church, Derby. The church was demolished in 1968 to make way for a major new section of the inner ring road cutting through the town centre, and its site now lies beneath the road. Wright's remains were removed to Nottingham Road Cemetery. In 1997, his tombstone was placed at the side of Derby Cathedral, and in 2002, it was brought inside and wall-mounted in a prominent place near the well-visited memorial to
Bess of Hardwick Elizabeth Cavendish, later Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury ( Hardwick; c. 1527 13 February 1608), known as Bess of Hardwick, of Hardwick Hall, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, was a notable figure of Elizabethan English society. By a series ...
. Wright's name also has been given to the sixth-form centre situated on Cathedral Row, Derby (not far from Iron Gate). The Joseph Wright Centre was opened in 2005 as the new flagship site for Derby College. The building is named after the eighteenth-century painter because his "artwork captured the many scientific and technological advances of the Industrial Revolution." In early 2013 Derby City Council and Derby Civic Society announced they would erect a
blue plaque A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site, serving as a historical marker. The term i ...

blue plaque
on his home at 27 Queen Street in Derby.


Other works

*'' Vesuvius from Posillipo by Moonlight'' (1774) * ''Grotto by the Seaside in the Kingdom of Naples with Banditti, Sunset'' (1778)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston The Museum of Fine Arts (often abbreviated as MFA Boston or MFA) is an art museum An art museum or art gallery is a building or space for the display of art, usually from the museum's own Collection (artwork), collection. It might be in publ ...
* '' Peter Labilliere'' (1780) Dorking Museum, UK * '' Indian Widow'' (1784) * ''Miss Mary Tunaley'' (1790–93)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston The Museum of Fine Arts (often abbreviated as MFA Boston or MFA) is an art museum An art museum or art gallery is a building or space for the display of art, usually from the museum's own Collection (artwork), collection. It might be in publ ...
* '' Romeo and Juliet: the Tomb Scene'' (1790)
Derby Museum and Art Gallery Derby Museum and Art Gallery is a museum and Art museum, art gallery in Derby, England. It was established in 1879, along with Derby Central Library, in a new building designed by Richard Knill Freeman and given to Derby by Michael Thomas Bass. ...
* '' Virgil's Tomb'' (three versions, 1779 to 1785)


See also

*
Georges de La Tour Georges de La Tour (13 March 1593 – 30 January 1652) was a French people, French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly ...


References


Sources

*


Further reading

* Barker, Elizabeth and Alex Kidson. ''Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool''. Yale University Press, 2007. *Bemrose, William. ''The Life and Works of Joseph Wright, Commonly called 'Wright of Derby''. Bemrose and Sons 1885. *Busch, Werner. ''Joseph Wright of Derby. Das Experiment mit der Luftpumpe: eine heilige Allianz zwischen Wissenschaft und Religion''. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1986. *Craske, Matthew. ''Joseph Wright of Derby, Painter of Darkness''. Yale University Press, 2020. *Daniels, Stephen. Joseph Wright. Princeton University Press, 1999. *Edgerton, Judy. ''Wright of Derby''. Exh. cat. Tate Gallery, 1990. *Fraser, David. ''Wright in Italy: Joseph Wright of Derby's Visit Abroad, 1773–5''. Gainsborough's House, 1987. *Graciano. Andrew. "Art, Science and Enlightenment." PhD dissertation, University of Virginia, 2002. * Graciano, Andrew. ''Joseph Wright, Esq., Painter and Gentleman''. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. * Graciano, Andrew. "'The Book of Nature is Open to All Men': Geology, Mining and History in Joseph Wright's Derbyshire Landscapes." ''Huntington Library Quarterly'' 68, no. 4 (2005): 583–600. * Graciano, Andrew. "Shedding New Botanical Light on Joseph Wright's ''Portrait of Brooke Boothby'': Rousseauian Pleasure versus Medicinal Utility." ''Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte'' 67 no. 3 (2004): 365–380. * Nicolson, Benedict. "Addenda to Wright of Derby." ''Apollo'' 88 (November 1968), suppl. Notes on British Art 12, 1–4. * Nicolson, Benedict. "Wright of Derby: addenda and corrigenda." ''Burlington Magazine'' 130, no. 1,027 (October 1988): 745–58. * Nicolson, Benedict. ''Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light'', 2 vols. Pantheon, 1968. * Solkin, David H. ''Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England''. Yale University Press, 1993: pages 214–46. * Rosenblum, Robert. "Wright of Derby: Gothick Realist." ''Art News'' 59, no. 1 (March 1960): 24–7, 54. *Wallis, Jane. ''Joseph Wright of Derby''. Derby Museum And Art Gallery, 1997. *Wright, Amina. ''Joseph Wright of Derby: Bath and Beyond''. Exh. cat. Holburne Museum, 2014.


External links


Gallery of Joseph Wright paintings at Derby Museum and Art GalleryGetty Museum profile
* * {{DEFAULTSORT:Wright, Joseph 1734 births 1797 deaths 18th-century English painters 18th-century English male artists English male painters English landscape painters English portrait painters People from Derby People educated at Derby School Collections of Derby Museum and Art Gallery Associates of the Lunar Society of Birmingham Paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby Associates of the Royal Academy