Wright of Derby, Joseph

BORN 3 Sep 1734, Derby, Derbyshire: Irongate - DIED 29 Aug 1797, Derby, Derbyshire
BIRTH NAME Wright, Joseph
GRAVE LOCATION Derby, Derbyshire: Nottingham Road Cemetery, Chaddesden (mass grave)

Joseph Wright was born into a family of lawyers. He wanted to become a painter and travelled to London when he was seventeen years old. There he studied under Thomas Hudson, who was also the teacher of Joshua Reynolds. He returned to Derby to paint portraits, but he soon returned to Hudson and worked as his assistant for fifteen months. In 1753 he settled in Derby where he painted portraits and landscapes. Among his best works were his candlelit paintings of technological subjects like "A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery" (1766) and "Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" (1768).

From 1768 to 1771 he worked as a portrait painter in Liverpool. On 28 July 1773 he married Ann Swift, the daughter of a lead miner. In 1773 he left for Italy with the painters John Downman and Richard Hurleson. Ann went with them as well. They travelled to Nice and Livorno and Wright worked in Naples. After his return to England he moved to bath. But his success as a portrait painter was limited in that city and he returned to Derby once more.

He was a friend of Erasmus Darwin who treated him for asthma and he was in contact with further members of the Lunar Society. Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Arkwright were among his patrons. In 1781 he became an associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and in 1784 he became a full member. His wife Ann died on 17 August 1790. Three of their six children survived infancy. Wright died at his home in Derby in 1797.

He was buried in the grounds of St Alkmund's Church in Derby. After the church was demolished in 1968 to make way for a ring road his remains were moved to a mass grave in Nottingham Road Cemetery. His original tombstone was placed outside Derby Cathedral in 1997 and it was brought inside in 2002.

Related persons
• painted Franklin, Benjamin


The original tombstone of Joseph Wright of Derby is now in Derby Cathedral, Derby.
Picture by Androom (12 Aug 2017)


Monument for Joseph Wright in Derby.
Picture by Androom (12 Aug 2017)


"The Orrery".
   (1764-1766, Derby: Derby Museum and Art Gallery)

"The Blacksmith's Shop".
   (1771, Derby: Derby Museum and Art Gallery)

"The Alchymist".
   (1795, Derby: Derby Museum and Art Gallery)

"Maria and her Dog Silvio".
   (1871, Derby: Derby Museum and Art Gallery)

"Portrait of Erasmus Darwin".
   (c1792-1793, Derby: Derby Museum and Art Gallery)

"Romeo and Juliet, the Tomb Scene".
   (exh1790, Derby: Derby Museum and Art Gallery)

Joseph Wright of Derby - Wikipedia

Wright, John Skirrow

Published: 18 Jun 2023
Last update: 15 Jul 2023