World-class study centre and major exhibition helps to launch new drive to restore Joseph Wright’s fame
Hundreds of hand-drawn sketches and letters belonging to the 18th Century painter Joseph Wright of Derby are being made accessible to the public to view for the first time in a new dedicated study centre.
Derby Museums Trust, which looks after the collection, has converted two rooms at the city’s Museum and Art Gallery, in The Strand, to house the items within the newly established Joseph Wright Institute, which is now open to the public.
The Trust hopes that the Institute will enable people to learn more about Wright, who became famous for the breath-taking use of light and shade in his paintings, in order to increase the appreciation of an artist who staff believes deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other iconic British painters such as Gainsborough, Constable and Turner.
Its opening marks the start of a renewed drive to promote Wright and his work and will be accompanied by a series of Joseph Wright-themed activities, as well as the Joseph Wright of Derby: Bath and Beyond exhibition, which examines the effect the artist’s 18 months in the south-west had on his career.
It is the first Joseph Wright exhibition held at the museum for 17 years and will pave the way for a major international touring exhibition, scheduled for 2019.
Derby’s Joseph Wright collection is the largest of its type anywhere in the world and was designated as being of national and international importance by Arts Council England in 2011. This gives it the same status as that enjoyed by 140 other prized collections in the UK, including those at the Royal Academy of Arts, the National Football Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
Among the collection’s 300 or so sketches and 34 paintings are early drawings that Wright made when he was 15 or 16, while it also contains records and personal correspondence, from Wright, his family and friends, which shine a light on his career, his peers and his life – including key events such as his acrimonious falling out with the Royal Academy.
Lucy Bamford, Senior Curator of Fine Art for Derby Museums Trust, said:
“We are thrilled to be opening the Institute, which, by offering research opportunities, a range of exhibitions and publications, as well as a host of activities for schools and families, will help us to raise Wright’s profile and wider understanding of his life and work.”
The Trust has organised a week-long series of events to mark the opening of the institute and visitors will be able to dress up in clothes similar to those worn by Wright’s sitters.
Wright, who was born in Derby in 1734, is credited as a key figure in our understanding of the English Enlightenment movement, thanks to a series of iconic paintings depicting scientific themes, including his famous 1766 work A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in the Place of the Sun
In his time he was one of the foremost painters in the country and his work, which included a series of spectacular paintings depicting the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, delighted art-lovers, including Catherine the Great of Russia.
The Joseph Wright Institute, based at Derby’s Museum and Art Gallery, The Strand, Derby. Entry is free and more details visit www.derbymuseums.org.