A Portrait by Wright of Derby Acquired by Birmingham

1. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)
Portrait of Erasmus Darwin, c. 1770
Oil on canvas - 75 x 62 cm
Birmingham, Museum & Art Gallery
Photo : Philip Mould & Co

27/9/13 - Acquisition - Birmingham, Museum & Art Gallery - The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has just purchased a portrait of Erasmus Darwin (ill. 1), the grandfather of Charles Darwin, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby, from the Philip Mould & Co. Gallery in London [1]. The work had been sold on 9 July 2009 by Sotheby’s along with two other paintings by the same artist also representing members of the Darwin family : William Alvey Darwin, Charles’ great-uncle and Erasmus’ brother ; the wife of William Alvey, Jane Darwin, with her son William Brown Darwin.
Erasmus Darwin was a man of many talents, embodying the Age of Enlightenment in Europe : a scholar, inventor, doctor, botanist, writer... In his works, notably the medical treatise Zoonomia and two of his poems : The Love of Plants and The Temple of Nature, he set down the basis for the evolutionary theories which were to be developed by his grandson. A very original painter when representing scenes from craftsmen’s workshops (blacksmiths, glass blowers) or scientific experiments, in which he favored red shades produced by artificial light or embers, Wright of Derby was more conventional in this portrait, close to contemporaries such as Joshua Reynolds or George Romney. He is known for Conversation Pieces, portraits of groups in a landscape and figures similar to those shown here, represented in familiar poses.

2. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)
Portrait of Erasmus Darwin, c. 1792-1793
Oil on canvas - 77 x 65 cm
Derby, Museum and Art Gallery
Photo : Derby Museum and Art Gallery

This painting dates back to around 1770, when the model, part of the same circles as the artist, was forty years old. Wright of Derby painted him on other occasions and the Derby Museum and Art Gallery holds a portrait of him executed some twenty years later (ill. 2).

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 27 septembre 2013


[1] The canvas was acquired for £275,000 with a contribution of £75,000 from the Art Fund and other amounts provided by various funds.

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