Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady 1770c.

Joseph Wright of Derby ARA 1734 - 1797

Portrait of a Lady, Joseph Wright of Derby ARA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76 x 63.5 cm
European Private Collection.
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Throughout his career, Joseph Wright had a considerable interest in the effects of artificial light -manifested most extremely in famous works such as An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, National Gallery and An Iron Forge, Tate Gallery. His early works reflect the poses, clear tones and glowing flesh of his master, Thomas Hudson, but even in the case of this portrait, datable to the mid 1760s there a greater concern than in the latter''s works with the play of artificial light. The gold dress glows with the light that falls on it from the left, giving it a life and movement of its own within the composition.

Wright was -unlike Hudson- his own drapery painter, and it is clear that the animation of the dress is inseparable from the effect of the entire composition. More diffuse light softens the face, which is painted in glowing flesh tones, echoed and strengthened by the rose that the sitter wears as a corsage. The pose of the hand at the sitter''s breast suggests a delicacy of movement that the painter plainly found essential to the mood of the portrait, since it is similarly employed elsewhere in his work, most notably in Portrait of Mrs Mundy c.1762-1763 (Collection of Sir Gilbert Inglefield).
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