Joseph Wright, a leading artist of the eighteenth century, spent most of his life in the central Midlands town of Derby, where he ran a successful portrait-painting practice. His best work in this vein portrays solid middle-class citizens, much like himself, with a keen perceptiveness of both character and physical appearance. Throughout his career, Wright was preoccupied with the evocative effects of light, specifically those produced by a single light source such as a candle, and the resulting play of shadows. Influenced by the powerful chiaroscuro of the superb mezzotints of Thomas Frye, a contemporary printmaker, Wright produced a number of dramatically lit self-portraits in oil, charcoal, and black-and-white pastel during the mid-1760s. Depicting himself in nocturnal lighting, wearing an exotic black hat, the artist evoked a time-honored tradition in portraiture: the deeply pensive artist who confronts himself and the viewer with a quiet challenge. Wright later ventured into landscape and genre subjects, the most original of which are concerned with the exploration of light phenomena. Portrait commissions continued to be a reliable source of income throughout his career.
Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.
Monochrome pastel (grisaille) on blue-gray laid paper
42.5 × 29.5 cm (16 3/4 × 11 5/8 in.)
Clarence Buckingham Collection
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Benedict Nicholson, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light, 2 vols. (London, 1968), p. 229, no. 165 (ill.).
The Art Institute of Chicago News and Events, “Museum News: Acquisitions” (July-August 1990), p. 8 (ill.).
Roger Kimball, “An Artistic Volcano,” The Wall Street Journal (3 June 1991).
Michael Kimmelmann, “Pontormo to Seurat: From Chicago to the Frick,” The New York Times, 1991.
Judy Egerton, “Joseph Wright of Derby: Self-Portrait in a Fur Cap,” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 18:2 (1992), pp. 112-23, fig. 1.
Martha Tedeschi, “Forward,” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 18:2 (1992), pp. 108-11.
James N. Wood and Sally Ruth May, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide (Chicago, 1993), p. 209 (ill.).
James N. Wood and Debra N. Mancoff, Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, 2000), p. 135 (ill.).
The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) website, sponsor page (NY: 2007), ill. (http://www.artcurators.org/sponsors.asp)
The Essential Guide (Chicago, 2009), p. 297 (ill.).
The Art Institute of Chicago, “Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840”, p. 156, cat. by William Laffan and Christopher Monkhouse, et. al.
New York, The Frick Collection, “From Pontormo to Seurat: Drawings Recently Acquired by The Art Institute of Chicago,” April 23-July 7, 1991, n.p., cat. 23 (ill.); traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago, September 10, 1991-January 5, 1992.
The Art Institute of Chicago, “Building a Collection: New Acquisitions and Promised Gifts of British Art,” May 1–August 1, 2004, checklist 2.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, “Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool,” May 22–August 31, 2008, pp. 40, 41, and 177, cat. 50, fig. 35, cat. by Elizabeth E. Barker and Alex Kidson et. al.
The Art Institute of Chicago, “Shockingly Mad: Henry Fuseli and the Art of Drawing”, November 16, 2017 - April 1, 2018.
James H. Ricau (died 1993), New York, by 1968 [Nicholson 1968]. Sold by David Nisinson, New York, to the Art Institute, 1990.
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