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Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734–1797, British, active in Italy (1773–75)

Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery

ca. 1768
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 17 5/8 x 23 1/2 inches (44.8 x 59.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apparatus | astronomer | astronomy | audience | books | boys | children | cravat | curtain | genre subject | gesture | girls | invention | lecture | light | men | model (representation) | monochromatic | orrery | paper (fiber product) | pencil | philosopher | planets | redingote (overcoat) | science | scientist | spectators | teacher | teaching | writing (processes)
On view in the galleries
IIIF Manifest:

An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system that was used in the eighteenth century to teach astronomy to lay audiences. In his depiction of the children marveling at the mechanism and the young man contemplating the lecture, Wright captures the eighteenth-century fascination with astronomy and natural philosophy. Painted in grisaille, a monochrome executed in shades of gray, this is a highly finished copy of a larger painting in color, made to this small scale to serve as an exact guide for mezzotint engravers to reproduce the composition as a print.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2021

Lance Bertelsen, David Garrick and English Painting, Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 11, Spring 1978, p. 323, NX452 E54 11 (YCBA) Also available online at JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2738195

Joseph Burke, The Iconography of the Enlightenment in English Art, Sydney University Press for the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1970, p. 15, N6766 B87

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 266-267, N590.2 A83 (YCBA)

Matthew Hargraves, Joseph Wright of Derby and the Society of Artists of Great Britain, British Art Journal, Vol. 11, no. 1, 2010 (Spring), p. 54-55, Pl. 2, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Also available on line (ORBIS)

Kathryn James, English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500-1800, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, p. 79, fig. 95, Z115.E5 J36 2020+ (YCBA)

Robert Michael Neuman, Baroque and Rococo art and architecture, Pearson, Boston, 2013, p. 392, N6415.B3 N48 2013 (YCBA)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 1, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

J. H. Plumb, The pursuit of happiness : a view of life in Georgian England : an exhibition selected from the Paul Mellon collection, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, pp. 51, 108, no. 97, N6766 Y34 1977 (YCBA)

Eric Robinson, Shorter Notices, Joseph Wright of Derby : The Philosophers' Painter , Burlington Magazine, vol. 100, The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd., June 1958, p. 214, N1 B87 100 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Simon Schama, The Yale Centre for British Art, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, Issue no. 3923, May 20, 1977, p. 619, Film S748 (SML) Also avaiable online in TLS Historical Archive (ORBIS)

Skira editore, Hogarth Reynolds Turner : British painting and the rise of modernity, Rome, 2014, pp. 157, 287, cat. no. 18, fig. 18, ND466 .H65 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

David H. Solkin, Joseph Wright of Derby and the Sublime Art of Labor, Representations, vol. 83, Summer 2003, p. 167, NX1 R46 (SML) Available online in JStor. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rep.2003.83.1.167

Marian Wardle, The Weir family, 1820-1920, expanding the traditions of American art , Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah and Hanover, N.H., 2011, pp. 117-18, fig. 6.5, NJ18 W4268 A12 2012 (LC) Oversize (HAAS)

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