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Creator Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734–1797, British, active in Italy (1773–75)
Title Academy by Lamplight
Alternate Title(s) Academy by Moonlight
Date 1769
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 50 x 39 3/4 inches (127 x 101 cm) Frame: 55 1/2 x 45 x 2 1/4 inches (141 x 114.3 x 5.7 cm)
Label on verso, center, handwritten: “Loan | Joseph Wright | of Derby | Academy by | Lamplight”
Credit Line Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Accession Number B1973.1.66
Collection Paintings and Sculpture
Curatorial Comment The academy students, each suggesting a different stage in the awakening of artistic genius, are gathered around a copy of the famous Hellenistic sculpture “Nymph with a Shell” (Louvre), which was widely known through casts and reproductions. But while Wright alludes to an artistic exemplum, he has also grounded his subject in fact. Art students were regularly given the exercise of drawing sculpture in lamplight and candlelight. Showing the sculpture as though warmed into life by the glow of the candles, Wright pays homage to the transformative, enlivening, even magical powers of light. He may also be gently alluding to the famous classical legend of Pygmalion, King of Cyprus, who carved a statue of Venus, the goddess of love, and in so doing fell in love with it. In answer to his prayers, the goddess herself inhabited the statue and made it come alive. Somewhat more prosaically, it has recently been shown that this painting and its companion, Philosopher by Lamplight (Derby Museum and Art Gallery), which Wright exhibited with the Society of Artists at Spring Gardens in May and early June 1769, offered a terse commentary upon the recent establishment of the Royal Academy under the presidency of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In the context of contemporaneous art-world politics, the Philosopher by Lamplight was “at once both a learned reworking of Salvator Rosa for the connoisseurs, and perhaps also a fitting warning to the new RAs about the transience of earthly glory,” while the Academy formed a kind of “critique of the hierarachical structure of the new RA by contrasting it with an ideal democratic school with clear allusions to the now defunct St. Martin's Lane Academy” (Hargraves, 2005, p. 97).
     -- Angus Trumble, 2007-01
Link to This Record
Subject Terms academy | artists | Borghese Gladiator, ca. 100 BC, by Agasias of Ephesos (Greek sculptor, active ca. 100 BCE) | boy | chairs | columns (architectural elements) | costume | curtain | drawing | education | genre subject | gladiator | Hellenistic art | light | men | nymph | sculpture | shadow | shell | sketching | statue | students | woman

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 58-9, no. 17, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy, a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 260, no. 41, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (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, 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. 20, 48, 102, no. 80, N6766 Y34 1977 (YCBA)

William Vaughan, British painting, the Golden Age from Hogarth to Turner, Thames and Hudson, London, 1999, p. 104, no. 64, ND466 V28 1999 (YCBA)

David H. Solkin, Painting for money, the visual arts and the public sphere in eighteenth-century England, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 1993, pp. 239-246, no. 80, N5205.7 G7 S65 1993 (YCBA)

Ronald Paulson, Breaking and remaking, aesthetic practice in England, 1700-1820, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1989, p. 225, no. 26, BH221 G72 P38 1989 (YCBA)

Judy Egerton, Wright of Derby, Tate Publishing, London, 1990, pp. 63-64, no. 23, no. 23, NJ18 W95 +E54 1990 Oversize (YCBA)

Benedict Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby : Painter of Light, Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, London, New York, 1968, pp. 234 (v. 1), lot 189, pl. 60, NJ18 W95 +N53 Oversize (YCBA)

Ronald Paulson, Hogarth's harlot, sacred parody in Enlightenment England, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md., 2003, pp. 145, 160-1, fig. 39, BR758 P38 2003 (YCBA)

Ronald Paulson, The beautiful, novel, and strange, aesthetics and heterodoxy, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1996, pp. 93, 298, PR858 A74 P38 1996 (YCBA)

Albert Boime, Art in an age of revolution, 1750-1800, v. 1, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987, p. 235, N6425 N4 B65 1987 (YCBA)

Arts Council of Great Britain, The age of neo-classicism : the 14th exhibition of the council of Europe, Royal Academy & UIA : 9 September - 19 November 1972, London, 1972, p. 180, no. 282, pl. 34, NX452.5 N4 A33 (YCBA)

Judy Egerton, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734-1797, Londres, Tate Gallery, 7 fâevrier-22 avril 1990 ; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 17 mai-23 juillet 1990 ; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 6 septembre-2 dâecembre 1990, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1990, pp. 52-4, no. 12, NJ18 W95 +E5414 1990 Oversize (YCBA)

David H. Solkin, Joseph Wright of Derby and the Sublime Art of Labor, Representations, vol. 83, Summer 2003, pp. 167, 192 n.3, NX1 R46 (SML) , Available online in JStor.

Academy by Lamplight, Gazette Des Beaux-Arts, vol. 81, January 1973, sup. 22, N2 G3 OVERSIZE (HAAS)

Academy by Lamplight, Domus, no. 516, November 1972, p. 50, N4 D6 OVERSIZE (HAAS)

Ellwood Parry, Some Distant Relatives and American Cousins of Thomas Eakins' Children at Play, American Art Journal, vol. 18, Winter 1986, pp. 23-4, fig. 3, Avaialble online through JSTOR , N8595 A618 (HAAS)

Elizabeth E. Barker, George Romney's Early Candlelight Pictures, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. 5, 2000, p. 32, NJ18 R65 T7 2000 (YCBA)

Jean-Pierre Cuzin, D'après l'antique, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 16 octobre 2000-15 janvier 2001, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 2000, no. 153, N7432.5.C6 D37 2000 (Haas)

Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, May 22 - August 31, 2008., Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, p. 8, V 2193 (YCBA)

Elizabeth E. Barker, Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool New Haven, 2007, pp. 50-2, 66-7,, cat. 31, NJ18 W95 B36 2007 + (YCBA)

David Bindman, The History of British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, pp. 198-99 (v.2), fig. 127, N6761 +H57 2008 Oversize (YCBA)

Francis Haskell, The Most beautiful statues, the taste for antique sculpture 1500-1900 : an exhibition held at the Ashmolean Museum from 26 March to 10 May 1981, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1981, p. 29, NB85 M67 (YCBA)

Matthew Hargraves, 'Candidates for fame', the Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1760-1791, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, CT, 2005, p. 97, N12 S637 H37 2005 (YCBA)

Society of Artists of Great Britain, A catalogue of the pictures, sculptures, designs in architecture, models, drawings, prints, &c. exhibited at the great room in Spring-Garden, Charing-Cross, May the First, 1769, by the Society of Artists of Great-Britain, the Tenth Year of Exhibiting, William Bunce, 1769, p. 13, no. 197, N5055 S6 C3 v. 1 (RARE BOOKS, YCBA) , Also Available Online (18th Century Collections Online - Gale)

Matthew Hargraves, Joseph Wright of Derby and the Society of Artists of Great Britain, British Art Journal, Vol. 11, no. 1, 2010 (Spring), pp. 56, 59, Pl. 4, N6761 B74 OVERSIZE (YCBA) , Also available on line (ORBIS)

Martha Hamilton-Phillips, Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool, (Book Review), Eighteenth Century Life, vol. 24, Baltimore, MD, Spring 2010, p. 110, 18 Ei44L v. 34 (LEWIS WALPOLE)

Martin Postle, Joseph Wright of Derby, Liverpool and New Haven, Burlington Magazine, The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd., April 2008, p. 278, N1 B87 150:2 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Joseph Burke, The Iconography of the Enlightenment in English Art, Sydney University Press for the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1970, p. 14, N6766 B87

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 78, ND466 G67 (YCBA)

Giles Waterfield, Mr Mellon, RA : the magazine for the Friends of the Royal Academy, No. 96, Autumn 2007, p. 71, V 1905 (YCBA) , Detached from RA, no.96 (2007:Autumn)

David A. Cross, George Romney : Patterns of Friendship, Transactions of the Romney Society, vol. 1, 1996, p. 20, NJ18 R65 T7 2000 (YCBA)

Joseph Wright of Derby An Academy by Lamplight, Sotheby's, London, p. 5, p. 6, p. 8 (detail), p. 10-11, p. 15, p. 21, V 2763 (YCBA)

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