1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wright, Joseph
WRIGHT, JOSEPH (1734-1797), styled Wright of Derby, English subject, landscape and portrait painter, was born at Derby on the 3rd of September 1734, the son of an attorney, who was afterwards town-clerk. Deciding to become a painter, he went to London in 1751 and for two years studied under Thomas Hudson, the master of Reynolds. After painting portraits for a while at Derby, he again placed himself for fifteen months under his former master. He then settled in Derby, and varied his work in portraiture by the production of the subjects seen under artificial light with which his name is chiefly associated, and by landscape painting. He married in 1773, and in the end of that year he visited Italy, where he remained till 1775. While at Naples he witnessed an eruption of Vesuvius, which formed the subject of many of his subsequent pictures. On his return from Italy he established himself at Bath as a portrait-painter; but meeting with little encouragement he returned to Derby, where he spent the rest of his life. He was a frequent contributor to the exhibitions of the Society of Artists, and to those of the Royal Academy, of which he was elected an associate in 1781 and a full member in 1784. He, however, declined the latter honour on account of a slight which he believed that he had received, and severed his official connexion with the Academy, though he continued to contribute to the exhibitions from 1783 till 1794. He died at Derby on the 29th of August 1797. Wright's portraits are frequently defective in drawing, and without quality or variety of handling, while their flesh tints are often hard. He is seen at his best in his subjects of artificial light, of which the “Orrery” (1766), the property of the corporation of Derby, and the “Air-pump” (1768), in the National Gallery, are excellent examples. His “Old Man and Death” (1774) is also a striking and individual production. An exhibition of Wright's works was brought together at Derby in 1883, and twelve of his pictures were shown in the winter exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1886.
His biography, by William Bemrose, was published in 1885.