Past Events

In Darkness and in Light: Rethinking Joseph Wright of Derby

Lecture, Research Seminar – Matthew Craske, Martin Postle

  • 16 February 2022
  • 6:30 – 8:00 pm
  • The first in a series of talks in Spring 2022 by authors of books recently published by the Paul Mellon Centre.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

Join us for a series of talks in Spring 2022 by authors of books recently published by the Paul Mellon Centre. Each author will give a glimpse into their project, sharing insights about the process of researching, writing, and publishing their book.

In the first of these events join Matthew Craske, author of Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness (published by the Paul Mellon Centre, 2020; winner of the 2021 William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History) and Martin Postle, Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre, who is working on a catalogue raisonné on Joseph Wright of Derby’s paintings, for an evening of talks and discussion. Together, the authors will consider how the output of a single artist is rewritten and reimagined at different historical moments. The conversation will be chaired by PMC Director, Mark Hallett.

This event will take place at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art at 16 Bedford Square. Tickets are available to guests who wish to join us onsite for the live event. Subject to technical capacity, the event may be live-streamed. Details will be released in early 2022.

Matthew Craske, Joseph Wright of Derby Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness

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, and he had an enduring concern with death, ruin, old age, loss of innocence, isolation and tragedy.

In this long-awaited book, Matthew Craske adopts a fresh approach to Wright, which takes seriously contemporary reports of his melancholia and nervous disposition, and goes on to question accepted understandings of the artist. Long seen as a quintessentially modern and progressive figure – one of the artistic icons of the English Enlightenment – Craske overturns this traditional view of the artist. He demonstrates the extent to which Wright, rather than being a spokesman for scientific progress, was actually a melancholic and sceptical outsider, who increasingly retreated into a solitary, rural world of philosophical and poetic reflection, and whose artistic vision was correspondingly dark and meditative.

Craske offers a succession of new and powerful interpretations of the artist’s paintings, including some of his most famous masterpieces. In doing so, he recovers Wright’s deep engagement with the landscape, with the pleasures and sufferings of solitude, and with the themes of time, history and mortality.

In this book, Joseph Wright of Derby emerges not only as one of Britain’s most ambitious and innovative artists, but also as one of its most profound.

About the speakers

  • Matthew Craske is reader in Art History at Oxford Brookes University.

  • Martin Postle is Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre. Martin has published on a wide range of eighteenth-century artists including Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs, Johan Zoffany and Richard Wilson. He was recently commissioning editor and contributor to the major PMC research project, Art and the Country House, published online by the Centre in November 2020. Martin is currently engaged upon the research and writing of a catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Joseph Wright of Derby.