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Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734–1797
Cavern, near Naples
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 inches (101.6 x 127 cm), Frame: 46 × 55 1/2 inches (116.8 × 141 cm)

Signed and dated, lower right: "I [or J] Wright | 177[?]"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Bequest of Pamela Askew
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
beach | beauty | cave | cavern | coast | Grand Tour | landscape | light | rocks (landforms) | sand | sea | seascape | water
Associated Places:
Italy | Naples
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

In 1774, Joseph Wright of Derby visited Salerno, south of Naples, and was impressed by the deep sea-washed grottoes along the coast. The subject had precedents in the work of the Neapolitan-born painter Salvator Rosa (1615–1673), whose work was widely admired by British collectors. For Wright, the grottoes formed a stimulating template for his experiments with different rock textures, effects of light and shadow, and watery reflections. He made numerous versions of the caverns, sometimes employing it as a setting for genre subjects (for example, as a hideout for thieves) and literary subjects (such as Prospero’s cell, in an illustration of The Tempest in Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery).

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

In 1774, Joseph Wright of Derby visited Salerno, south of Naples, and was impressed by several deep caverns or "grottoes" that no longer exist. This and the picture to your right belong to the remarkable group of closely related grotto paintings that Wright based on two fine drawings he made on that visit (Georgian House, Edinburgh). The sight may also have sparked his recollection of a recently published engraving after Sydney Parkinson (Captain Cook's draftsman on the Endeavour), which showed a very similar cavern at Tolaga Bay, New Zealand. The subject had few if any other precedents in landscape painting, ideal or topographical, but nevertheless formed a stimulating template for Wright's experiments with different rock textures, effects of light and shadow, watery reflections, and a wide range of narrative and non-narrative uses.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Charles Edward Buckley, English Landscape by Joseph Wright of Derby, Art Quarterly, v. 18, 1955, p. 266, J10 Ar81 + (LSF) [ORBIS]

Charles Edward Buckley, Joseph Wright of Derby, Magazine of Art, vol. 45, April 1952, pp. 160-67, J10 Ar 81 OVERSIZE (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Centre Aixois d'Etudes et de Recherches sur le XVIIIe Siècle, La Méditerranée au XVIIIe siècle, actes du colloque international tenu à Aix-en-Provence les 4, 5, 6 septembre 1985. , Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, 1987, DE96 M39 1987 (LSF) [ORBIS]

Judy Egerton, Wright of Derby, Tate Publishing, London, 1990, pp. 159-60, no. 97, NJ18 W95 +E54 1990 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734-1797, a loan exhibition : Durlacher Bros., March 1 through March 26, 1960. , Durlacher Brothers Gallery, London, 1960, no. 12, V 0629 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734-1797, an exhibition of paintings and drawings, the Tate Gallery, 11 April to 18 May, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 31 May to 21 June , Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1958, pp. 23-4, no. 16, NJ18 W95 A77 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Leach, Joseph Wright and the final farewell, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2023, p. 103, fig. 8.3, NJ18 W95 L43 2023 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Benedict Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby : Painter of Light, Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, London, New York, 1968, pp.11, 76 (v. 1), no. 281, pl. 175, NJ18 W95 +N53 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Rosenblum, Wright of Derby: Gothick Realist, ART News, vol. 59, March 1960, p, 54, N1 A6 OVERSIZE (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Solomon Charles Kaines Smith, Wright of Derby, F. A. Stokes, New York, 1922, p. 149, NJ18 W95 S55 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The British Council, British painting in the eighteenth century : an exhibition under the gracious patronage of Her Majesty the Queen. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Toledo Museum of Art, 1957-1958 ..., , [London, 1957, pp. 67-8, ND466 A5 (YCBA) [YCBA]

J. B. Trapp, The Grave of Vergil, Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes, vol. 47, 1984, p. 26, AS122 L8515 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Peter Walch, Foreign Artists at Naples, 1750-1799, Burlington Magazine, vol. 121,no.913, April 1979, pp. 247 - 252, N1 B87 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

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