Joseph Wright of Derby

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How does a museum fight back when its very purpose is questioned and its public funding is taken away? In the case of Derby Museum, its most famous son, Joseph Wright, the seventeenth century painter, has come to the rescue.

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In a New York auction room it has bought what may be his last two landscapes.

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The paintings were of industrialist Francis Hurt and his wife Mary and were painted around 1780, the couple owned Alderwasley estate and several iron works and lead mines. The price of the paintings were £122,000 and through a mixture of grants and donations Derby Museums were able to raise the required funds and purchase the paintings, which were situated and displayed in the museum’s Enlightenment exhibition but are now undergoing conservation.

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Joseph Wright was one of The Lunar Men, a group led by Erasmus Darwin and formed from amateur experimenters, tradesmen and artisans who met and made friends in the Midlands in the 1760s. They all lived far from the centre of things, but they were young and their optimism showed through in their creativity.