The Wright stuff on a damp day in Derby

'The Orrery' by Joseph Wright of Derby. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

‘The Orrery’ by Joseph Wright of Derby. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

It was a bit damp in Derbyshire today so we decided to visit the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. I lived in Derby up until 14 years ago, and last visited the museum about five years ago, and today found it almost miraculously transformed. It always had a slightly tired, jaded look, but now it is in the process of being renovated with the latest exhibition techniques, and it really is outstanding, indeed world class.

It is all the more remarkable given the problems of lack of government funding, so that it has recently had to become a charitable trust.

The great centrepiece of the museum, as always, is the Joseph Wright gallery. Always impressive, it is now simply stunning. With neutral gray walls and superb lighting, the pictures (which have all been cleaned) almost leap out at you from the walls. It has very deservedly been recently ‘Designated as an Outstanding Collection’.

The Joseph Wright of Derby Gallery. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

The Joseph Wright of Derby Gallery. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

Of course, Wright’s most famous picture, the huge ‘Experiment with an Air Pump’ has pride of place in the British collection at the National Gallery in London, but almost all his other key works are to be found here in Derby, including such masterpieces as ‘The Orrery’ (above), and ‘The Alchymist’ (below):

'The Alchymist' by Joseph Wright of Derby

‘The Alchymist’ by Joseph Wright of Derby

Joseph Wright is possibly not as widely appreciated as he deserves, and certainly the Derby collection has not had the publicity it merits. He was a innovator of great technical mastery, and his dual passion for dramatic lighting effects and the scientific subject matter of many of his paintings have an almost religious intensity.

Joseph Wright, Self Portrait. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

Joseph Wright, Self Portrait. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

But the excellence of the Derby Museum does not finish here. Every exhibition – and they are all in the process of being completed restaged – is superlative. From ‘The Soldier’s Story’ (about the history of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment) …

'The Soldier's Story' exhibition, Derby Museum. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

‘The Soldier’s Story’ exhibition, Derby Museum. Photo: Gordon Stainforth

… to the geological, archaeological and natural history exhibitions, the stuffed animals and birds, the Egyptian mummies, and the Bonnie Prince Charlie room (an exact replica of his final base in Derby, which was where he realised that his whole project of overthrowing the monarchy was a lost cause) …

The Bonnie Prince Charlie Room, Derby Museum. Photo: Freda Raphael

The Bonnie Prince Charlie Room, Derby Museum. Photo: Freda Raphael (taken with a stunningly steady hand in very low light)

… not to mention the frequently changing temporary exhibitions of modern art and historical curiosities – the displays are superbly staged and designed. Highly recommended.

Derby Museum and Art Gallery website.

We then retreated to the wonderful, cosy ‘Hollybush’ at Makeney for a pint. (BTW, It’s quite easy to find because it’s very close to the centre of the universe …)

'The Alchymist' by Joseph Wright of Derby. Detail, by Gordon Stainforth. ... I know the feeling :)

‘The Alchymist’ by Joseph Wright of Derby. Detail, by Gordon Stainforth.
… I know the feeling 🙂

 

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