Monday, May 20, 2013

Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery 17 November 2007 - 24 February 2008

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797) is one of the most significant and admired British artists of the eighteenth century. Prized by his contemporaries for the originality of his "candlelight" paintings, Wright was also a distinguished portraitist.

This major exhibition explored the three years Joseph Wright of Derby spent in Liverpool at the start of the town's cultural Renaissance and growing status as a major world port.

During his time in Liverpool, between 1768 and 1771, Wright was remarkably productive painting not only portraits but his trademark Candlelight works. His account book, on display at the exhibition, lists many of the paintings he produced. Wright's visit transformed Liverpool from an artistic backwater, into a place where art patrons felt confident and proud of their taste.

The exhibition was organised jointly by the Walker Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven CT, USA, where it was shown 22 May - 30 August 2008.

Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool
was the first major exhibition to focus on Wright's creative development in that important provincial artistic center.

The exhibition also provided a look at the city during a period of economic expansion and political change. Wright's arrival in Liverpool marked a turning point in the development of the artistic culture of the metropolis—a true "Dawn of Taste." At the time, Liverpool was characterized by its extraordinarily mobile population, its commercial expansion, and its uneasy involvement with the slave trade, which made many of its merchants' fortunes. Wright's highly realistic style was well suited to this environment, and demand for his portraits led him to complete one, on average, every ten days. Wright's success in Liverpool made him the first great British artist to establish a career largely outside London.

The exhibition featured approximately eighty-five works of art, including nearly fifty paintings and drawings by Wright, as well as works by his circle of friends and pupils in the city.


In 1768 Joseph Wright left his native city of Derby and moved to Liverpool in search of recognition and success. Earlier the same year he had exhibited the masterly Experiment on a Bird in the Air-Pump to great acclaim in London, but he failed to sell the picture, and he would shortly be excluded from the Royal Academy. Liverpool offered him the opportunity to engage with wealthy clients who had little experience of art patronage. Wright painted portraits of the prosperous merchants and their families, and continued to develop the brilliantly illuminated subject paintings on which his reputation chiefly rests. This beautifully illustrated book examines Wright's remarkable impact on the artistic climate of the city of Liverpool, on its cultural institutions and on the other artists working there.

Comprehensive review with more images

Joseph Wright of Derby, An Academy by Lamp light: Private Collection. (1769. Oil on canvas. 127 by 101.6 cm.)

Joseph Wright of Derby, Two Boys Blowing a Bladder by Candlelight: The Henry E. Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino. (Circa 1770. Oil on canvas. 88.9 by 69.9 cm.)

Joseph Wright of Derby, A Conversation of Girls: Private Collection, on loan to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. (By 1770. Oil on canvas. 127 by 101.6 cm.)

Joseph Wright of Derby, Richard Gildart: National Museums Liverpool. (1768. Oil on canvas. 125 by 100 cm.)'

Joseph Wright of Derby The Blacksmith's Shop: Yale Center for British Art:. (1771. Oil on canvas)