Monday, 3 September 2012

Joseph Wright of Derby and An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump

'An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump' (1768) by Joseph Wright of Derby; National Gallery, London

Today's painting has always captivated me, not in the least because I could never remember its title nor its painter. Just the image of a dark painting with lots of people in it and something to do with a bird stuck to mind. Well, the artist is Joseph Wright of Derby, born on 3 September 1734, and he made today's choice easy. Wright was known for his use of chiaroscuro and for his paintings of candlelit subjects. He was trained as a portrait painter by Thomas Hudson. He was in close contact with members of the Lunar Society, an informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands consisting of industrialists, intellectuals and natural philosophers. Many of Wright's paintings were inspired by Lunar Society gatherings. Wikipedia dedicates an entire page on today's painting (click here). It's a depiction of a group of people observing an experiment in which a bird is deprived of air. Everybody reacts differently but their concern for the bird's well-being is surpassed by their scientific curiosity. I think it's a fascinating work of art because of its subject choice and use of dramatic light.

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