Artist
Joseph Wright of Derby
English painter

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Joseph Wright of Derby
English painter
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Birth Date

September 03, 1734

Death Date

August 29, 1797

cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

If Bill Nye the Science Guy and Bob Ross adopted a baby with the ability to time travel to the English Industrial Revolution, that child would be Joseph Wright of Derby.

That, at least, is my high-concept pitch for a Joseph Wright of Derby biopic. Kickstarter forthcoming.

Wright of Derby is considered one of the most notable painters of his place and era. For one thing, he is the first major English painter to gain fame while living outside of London. That fame came in Liverpool, but don't call him Liverpudlian (that's a thing). Wright was about that Derby life through and through. So much so that he received the 'of Derby' moniker when a contemporary critic needed to distinguish between him and another paint slinger bopping around England also named Joseph Wright. Why this was not fought out in a public battle to the death is beyond me.

He developed a career largely from portraits and landscapes before changing his game altogether. Derby, at the time, was the epicenter of the English Industrial Revolution. Mills of all sorts dotted the landscape. Pollutants poured freely into the River Derwent, rolling through Derby and into the countryside, lending a smell of industry to the picturesque fields. It was, plainly, a beautiful time to be a capitalist. And the science... Oh the science! Science all around. Steam engines and machinations and examinations of the cosmos. All this swirled around Wright's mind until he figured, "Hey, I should paint that." And when he did paint science, experiments on birds for instance, it struck a chord with the public.

And Wright played that chord all the way to the bank. He was a shrewd businessman, mass marketing prints of his originals to the public. He did so well that he severed ties with the Royal Academy, one of London's premier artist organizations, after he believed they were undermining his work and chipping his frames. Which is the 18th century art world equivalent of the drive by shooting that starts a gang war. His revenge was to set up a one man show outside their purview, which knocked the powder off more than a few fancy wigs, to be sure.

Member of the Lunar Society, whose unofficial membership called themselves Lunarticks (#truestory). A group that met once a month on the full moon, so members could walk home by aid of moonlight, probably 'cause some sort of keg was involved. The group was comprised of intellectuals from the humanities and sciences. Many prominent individuals and dignitaries would attend their events, including Benjamin Franklin. On the one hand, the group used the discourse to fuel investment and interest in their own projects, with the meetings acting as a sort of Shark Tank where everyone took turns as Marc Cuban. However, and this can't be stressed enough, any professionalism was augmented with an atmosphere akin to a group of self-possessed philosophy majors discussing the problems of Nietzsche's Overman hypothesis, replete with ponytail stroking and stemless wine glasses full of cheap brandy.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Joseph Wright of Derby

Joseph Wright ARA (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."

Wright is notable for his use of chiaroscuro effect, which emphasises the contrast of light and dark, and, for his paintings of candle-lit subjects. His paintings of the birth of science out of alchemy, often based on the meetings of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, 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.

Many of Wright's paintings and drawings are owned by Derby City Council, and are on display at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Joseph Wright of Derby.