Joseph Wright of Derby symposium

Portrait of an elderly woman in shawl sitting at a red desk with paperwork

Detail from 'Sarah Clayton', Joseph Wright of Derby (Fitchburg Museum of Art, Mass)

In November 2007, Eighteenth Century Worlds Centre (University of Liverpool) and the Walker Art Gallery (National Museums Liverpool) presented a two day symposium to coincide with a major exhibition Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool.

Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97) is one of the most significant and widely admired British artists working in the second half of the eighteenth century. This exhibition, opening at the Walker, focuses on the period from the autumn of 1768 to the summerof 1771 that Wright spent on a visit to Liverpool, a visit which enabled him to seek both new patrons and a new image. In these years, Wright painted some of his greatest masterpieces, and demand for his portraits during his first year in the town led him to complete on average one every ten days.

Wright's arrival in Liverpool represented a dynamic moment in the development of the city's visual culture. Liverpool artist benefitted from the presence and the town began to aspire to being a centre of artistic excellence. Although the first Society of Artists, founded in 1769, lasted less than a year, it was revived in 1773, holding what is believed to have been the first provincial art exhibition in England the following year. Fifty years later the antiquarian Matthew Gregson described this period as 'the dawn of taste' in Liverpool.

The symposium took the exhibition as its point of departure and drew on significant new research on Wright to re-evaluate his career, oeuvre and impact more fully.


Day one: Friday 16 November 2007, Merseyside Maritime Museum

14.00 Registration and coffee

14.30 Welcome: Holger Hoock, Director, Eighteenth-Century Worlds Centre

Session 1: Commerce and culture: Wright in Liverpool

Roey Sweet, Leicester: Liverpool in the Eighteenth Century: A Town of Commerce and Taste
Alex Kidson, NML: The Liverpool Art Scene in the Late Eighteenth Century
Paul Laxton, University of Liverpool: 'Taking Notes on the Left': The Shadowy Career and Thwarted Ambitions of Peter Burdett

16.00 Coffee

16.30 Session 2: Exhibition

Elizabeth E Barker, Amherst: An Introduction to the Exhibition: Making and Meaning

17.30 Reception and private view for the delegates [Walker Art Gallery]

Delegates will be transported by coach from the Maritime Museum to the Walker.

20:00 Speakers' dinner

Day Two: Saturday 17 November 2007, Merseyside Maritime Museum

9.00 Coffee and registration

9.30 Session 3: Keynote addresses: Wright revisited

Ludmilla Jordanova, London: Using Wright - a histiographical perspective
Matthew Craske, Oxford: Joseph Wright scholarship: A revisionist view

11.00 Coffee

11.15 Session 4: Academies, patrons and collectors

Matthew Hargraves, Yale: 'Unknowing or unknown': Joseph Wright of Derby and the Society of Artists
Vicky Whitfield, Manchester: Building networks - Joseph Wright and his circle of patrons
Suzanne May, Liverpool: Wright and late-renaissance humanism:'Attempts towards fame and fortune'

12.45 Lunch

14.00 Session 5: Rural retirement and the culture of sensibility

John Bonehill, Leicester: Wright's retirement
Stephen Daniels, Nottingham: Cottages on fire

15.00 Session 6: A continental view

Mikael Ahlund, Stockholm: Swedish comparisons and connections: Pehr Hillestrom and Elias Martin

15.45 Coffee

16.15 Concluding session

Commentary: Lawrence E Klein, Cambridge
Concluding discussion

17.00 Symposium ends

The exhibition is at the Walker Art Gallery from 17 November 2007 to 24 February 2008, 10am to 5pm daily (closed 24, 25, 26 December and 1 January).

For further information phone 0151 478 4199 or visit the exhibition web pages.

The exhibition will be shown at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 22 May to 30 August 2008.

A fully illustrated hardback catalogue written by Elizabeth Barker and Alex Kidson, with contributions by Jane Longmore, Martin Hopkinson and Sarah Parsons is available priced £37.

The exhibition is jointly organised by the Walker Art Gallery (National Museums Liverpool) and the Yale Center for British Art.