Wright, Joseph

, commonly called Wright of Derby, a very distinguished painter, was born at Derby, September 3, 1734. His father was an attorney there. In early life, he gave indications of a taste for mechanics, and those habits of attentive observation, which generally lead to perfection in the fine arts. In 1751, he came to London, and was placed with Hudson, the most eminent portraitpainter of the day, and who, lord Orford tells us, pleased the country gentlemen with “his honest similitudes, fair tied wigs, blue velvet coats, and white sat tin waistcoats, which he bestowed liberally on his customers.” Wright used to lament that he could not receive much instruction from this master, but it is certain he at this time painted both portraits and historical pieces in a very capital style, of which his “Blacksmith’s forge,” “Air-pump, &c.” are proofs. In 1773, after marrying, he visited Italy, and made great advances in his profession. In 1775, he returned to England, and settled for two years at Bath, after which his residence was entirely at Derby.

His attention was directed for some years to portrait painting; and from the specimens he has left, there can be no dbubt that he would have stood in the first rank in | this branch of the art, had he chosen to pursue it; but his genius was not to be circumscribed within such narrow limits, and therefore, at a mature age, he visited Italy* to study the precious remains of art which that country possessed. His fine drawings, after Michael Angelo (which have scarcely been seen except by his particular friends), and the enthusiasm with which he always spoke of the sublime original, evinced the estimation in which he held them; and from their extreme accuracy, they may be considered as faithful delineations of the treasures of the Capella Sestina. In 1782 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy; but offended at Mr. Garvey’s being chosen royal academician before himself, he resigned his associate’s diploma in disgust, yet continued to exhibit at intervals with that society. In 1785 he made an exhibition of his own pictures at the auction room, now Robins’s, in the Great Piazza, Covent Garden. The collection consisted of twenty four pictures.

During his abode in Italy he had an opportunity of seeing a very memorable eruption of Vesuvius, which fe^­kindled his inclination for painting extraordinary effects of light; and his different pictures of this sublime event stood decidedly chef d* ceuvres in that line of painting; for who but Wright ever succeeded in fire or moonlights? His later pictures were chiefly landscapes, in which we are at a loss, whether most to admire the elegance of his outline, his judicious management of light and shade, or the truth and delicacy of his colouring; but of those, the greatest part have never been exhibited, as they were always purchased from the easel by amateurs who knew how to appreciate their value: a large landscape (his last work) now at Derby, being a view of the head of Ullswater, may be considered amongst the finest of his works, and deservedly ranks with the most valued productions of Wilson, or even Claude himself.

In the historical line, the Dead Soldier, which is now known by Heath’s admirable print, would alone establish his -fame, if his Edwin (in the possession of J. Milnes, esq. of Wakefield, who has also his Destruction of the Floating Batteries off Gibraltar, and some of his best landscapes), the two pictures of Hero and Leander, Lady in Comus, Indian Widow, and other historical subjects, had not already ascertained his excellence. His attachment to his native town, added to his natural modesty, and his severe | application both to the theory and practice of painting, prevented his mixing with promiscuous society, or establishing his reputation by arts which he would never descend to practise. His friends long urged him to reside in London; but his family attachments, and love of retirement and study were invincible, and he fell a victim to his unwearied attention to his profession. He died of a decline, Aug. 29, 1797;

His pictures have been so much in request, that there is scarcely an instance of their ever having come into the hands of dealers; neither have his best works ever been seen in London; a strong proof of their intrinsic worth, and that no artifices were necessary to ensure their sale. It is with pleasure therefore that we record, that his pecuniary circumstances were always affluent, and shew that the world has not been unmindful of his extraordinary talents, and also that, as a man, he enjoyed the friendship and esteem of all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. 1


Edwards’s Anecdotes. GenU Mag. for 1797>