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Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734–1797
William and Margaret from Percy's 'Reliques of Ancient English Poetry'
ca. 1785
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
48 x 55 inches (121.9 x 139.7 cm)

Label on verso, lower left: "[handwritten] W[eight?] [...] Oct 19[...] | 143 William and Margaret | Lent by Lady Inglefield. | On [...] William raises himself in bed, and sees the [...] | standing at the foot of his bed with 1. hand upr[...] | lamp behind Margaret; crescent moon seen through [...] | Oil on canvas 48 x 56 | Cade Collection | Exhibited, London [...]85; Derby 1866 | Engraved in mezzotint by John Raphael Smith, 1802. | From the celebrated ballad in Piercies "Reliques of Antient English | Poetry" Vol. 3. XVL:- | 'Twas at the silent solumn hour | When night and snoring meet, In gilded Margaret's grimly ghost | And stood at William[...]'"; upper left: "Derby Corporation Art Gallery | Bi-centenary Exhibition of the Works of | Wright of Derby, 1934 | Lendor's Name Lady Ingle[...] | Address 15, Beauford G[...] S W | title of Picture William & Margaret"; upper right: "Frank Porter & Son, Ltd | Derby | Name [...] | [...] Date "; center right: "James Bourlet & Sons, Ltd., | Fine Art Packers, Frame Makers | A88566 | 17 & 18, Nassau Street, | Mortimer Street, W. | P[...] Museum 1[...]71 & 7588."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
bed | costume | genre subject | ghost | love | man | moon | night | poem | poetry | torch | window | woman
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

This painting represents the devastation wrought by the fickleness of youthful love. William, the man in bed, had given his lover Margaret cause to think they would marry, but the very next day she saw him marry another. She promptly died of grief. On William’s wedding night, Margaret appeared to him in a dream at the foot of his bed. She was dressed in her winding sheet (or burial cloth) to announce her death. William hastened to confirm his dream the next morning and, finding Margaret dead, died the same day stricken with remorse. The tragic story comes from an ancient poem published in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1766). As the poem says: “Fair Margaret dyed for pure true love, / Sweet William dyed for sorrow.”

Gallery label for Love, Life, Death, and Desire: An Installation of the Center's Collections (Yale Center for British Art, 2020-11-01 – 2021-02-28)

Love, Life, Death, and Desire: An Installation of the Center's Collections (Yale Center for British Art, 2020-10-01 - 2021-02-28) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Christie's Sale Catalogue : Highly Important English Pictures c.1600 - c. 1850 : 23 June 1972, Christie's, 1972, p. 36, lot 81, pl. 81, Auction Catalogues (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 262-263, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Matthew Craske, Joseph Wright of Derby : Painter of darkness, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, pp. 44-45, fig. 30, NJ18.W95 C72 2020+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, Wright of Derby, Tate Publishing, London, 1990, p.248, NJ18 W95 +E54 1990 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Leach, Joseph Wright and the final farewell, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2023, pp. 162, 163, fig. 11.7, NJ18 W95 L43 2023 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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