Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797
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Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797

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Portrait of a young lady dressed in red and white satin with a posy of flowers; a string of pearls, offset with pink ribbon, runs through her hair and high round her neck.


Oil painting on canvas 30 x 25 inches, contained in a fine carved and giltwood Georgian  frame.


Painted circa 1755


Provenance: Sold 5th April 1932 (lot 132) at Christies, London, from the collection of Walter de Zoete (as “Allan Ramsay” (!) for £63.0s.0d.)


The later career of one of England's greatest painters of the l8th century is well known and exceptionally well documented, not least through the survival of his Sitter Books and Journal; the earliest part of his career, has until very recently been far less well known.

However, the recent discovery of this very early image by the young Joseph Wright adds to our knowledge of his earliest career. Benedict Nicolson in his 1968 monograph on the artist had surmised that Wright's earliest portraits should be dated to "circa 1760" until a signed and dated portrait of "Anne Bateman" was discovered to be signed and dated 1755, when Wright was just 21. (Exhibited, Tate Gallery, "Joseph Wright", catalogue no 2, page 35).

The present painting's relationship with "Anne Bateman" could scarcely be closer technically and compositionally. Both share the slightly mannered elongated neck, smooth painting technique, masterly painting of lace and satin, and the richly saturated colours one might expect of a youthful prodigy trained in drapery-painting by London's leading portraitist. Likewise, the painting of the posy of flowers on the front of the sitter's dress is echoed exactly in the still life elements of the portrait of "Mrs. William Pigot" of 1760 (Nicholson, Vol. II, plate 24: Doncaster Museum: painting recently with Mallett).

Wright's initial training as a portraitist had been with the Londoner Thomas Hudson, for whom he worked as a drapery painter from 1751-3 and again in 1756-7. In between these years he stayed with his family in Derby, where he is recorded as painting his parents, his two sisters and his brother (all now lost) as well as "the portraits of many of his friends as of the principal families of the neighbourhood" (such as Anne Bateman). It is from this date that the first "Self-portrait" comes (Tate Gallery, op. cit. no.l). A comparison between the features of the young artist and the present painting suggest the intriguing possibility of a family likeness. It is far from inconceivable that this is the missing portrait of one of Wright's sisters.

We acknowledge the generous help of David Fraser, former curator of the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and who has examined the painting in the original, for his assistance in cataloguing this portrait.