Joseph Wright of Derby Painter of Darkness Matthew Craske

The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
Publication date:
24 Nov 2020
Paul Mellon Centre
368 pages: 279 x 241mm
195 color + b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A revelatory study of one of the 18th century’s greatest artists, which places him in relation to the darker side of the English Enlightenment

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797), though conventionally known as a “painter of light,” returned repeatedly to nocturnal images. His essential preoccupations were dark and melancholy. He had an enduring concern with death, ruin, old age, loss of innocence, isolation, and tragedy. In this long-awaited book, Matthew Craske takes a fresh approach to Wright of Derby, examining contemporary reports of his melancholia and nervous disposition and questioning accepted understandings of the artist: that he set out to paint the Industrial Revolution, was personally heavily concerned with science, and had his cultural milieu in such clubs as the Lunar Society, which are seen to have existed to promote science and industry. In this very different portrayal, we gain a bleaker, more nuanced understanding of Wright of Derby as well as a new and thought-provoking vision of the wider art-historical period.  

Matthew Craske is reader in art history at Oxford Brookes University.