Wright, Patience (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
Wright, Patience

by Freeman Marius O'Donoghue
Contains subarticle Joseph Wright (1756–1793).

WRIGHT, Mrs. PATIENCE (1725–1786), wax modeller, was born of quaker parents named Lovell at Bordentown, New Jersey, North America, in 1725. In 1748 she married Joseph Wright, also of Bordentown, and in 1769 was left a widow with a son and two daughters. Having made a reputation in the colony by her portraits in wax, she removed to England in 1772 and settled in London, where she became celebrated as the ‘Promethean modeller.’ Her residence was in Cockspur Street, Haymarket, and there she arranged an exhibition of her works, comprising life-sized figures and busts of contemporary notabilities and historical groups, which was superior to anything of the kind previously seen. She modelled for Westminster Abbey the effigy of Lord Chatham, which is still preserved there. During the American war of independence Mrs. Wright, who was a woman of remarkable intelligence and conversational powers, acted successfully as a spy on behalf of Benjamin Franklin, with whom she regularly corresponded. Her house was much resorted to by artists, especially Benjamin West [q. v.] and John Hoppner [q. v.], the latter of whom married her second daughter Phœbe. In 1781 Mrs. Wright paid a visit to Paris, and returned only shortly before her death, which took place in London on 23 March 1786. An engraving of Mrs. Wright accompanies a notice of her in the ‘London Magazine’ of 1775.

Joseph Wright (1756–1793), only son of Patience Wright, accompanied his mother to England, and, with the assistance of West and Hoppner, became a portrait-painter. In 1780 he exhibited a portrait of his mother at the Royal Academy, and at about the same time he painted a portrait of the Prince of Wales. In 1782 he returned to America, where he practised both painting and wax-modelling; Washington sat to him several times. He was appointed the first draughtsman and die-sinker to the mint at Philadelphia, and died in 1793.

[Dunlap's Hist. of the Arts of Design in the United States, 1834; London Mag. 1775, p. 555; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists.]

F. M. O'D.