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  • This portrait belongs to a relatively small group of monochrome drawings that Wright executed in the late 1760s and early 1770s in chalk. Despite the friability and dryness of the medium, the effects of light achieved here have much in common with the most adventurous oil paintings in which Wright pursued the study of highly complex effects of natural and artificial light in gloom: either natural gloom, as in the penumbra of twilight or the pitch darkness of night, or the gloom of interrupted or banished daylight. The consensus of opinion is that these drawings demonstrate Wright’s interest in, not to say indebtedness to, the medium of mezzotint, which had been used in May 1768 by William Pether to reproduce Wright’s somewhat sensational, recent “The Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery”, the first such reproductive print to be published after a work by Wright, and therefore, for any artist, a moment laden with professional and personal promise. But Wright had easy access to a plentiful supply of other models in mezzotint for life-sized portrait heads. When Paul Mellon bought the present drawing, it was thought to be a self-portrait and was published as such several times. However, it bears only a vague and superficial resemblance to securely documented self-portraits by Wright (ten in number) and indeed differs from them in several respects, namely, the cleft chin and the nose, which is much larger than Wright’s and decidedly hooked by comparison. Instead, Gillian Forrester has raised the possibility that this is a portrait of the artist’s good friend Peter Perez Burdett. Wright had painted Burdett and his wife in 1765, and Burdett reappears as a model in several of Wright's subject pictures, including the “Orrery” and “Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candle-Light” (1765, private collection). The presence of fancy costume in this portrait, particularly the “Van Dyck” collar and cuff, which are also conspicuous in Wright’s “Academy by Lamplight”, of around 1768, is consistent with David Solkin’s suggestion that in the latter work “we are dealing with the projection of an imagined ideal as opposed to a portrayal grounded in reality” (Solkin, 1993, p. 242). Wright’s methods and recurring preoccupations defy easy categorization, however, and a form of dress that elsewhere conjures something of the formality and performance of masquerade here frames a portrait head of startling, disarming intimacy, and Rembrandtesque warmth.
?:PX_curatorial_comment
  • This portrait belongs to a relatively small group of monochrome drawings that Wright executed in the late 1760s and early 1770s in chalk. Despite the friability and dryness of the medium, the effects of light achieved here have much in common with the most adventurous oil paintings in which Wright pursued the study of highly complex effects of natural and artificial light in gloom: either natural gloom, as in the penumbra of twilight or the pitch darkness of night, or the gloom of interrupted or banished daylight. The consensus of opinion is that these drawings demonstrate Wright’s interest in, not to say indebtedness to, the medium of mezzotint, which had been used in May 1768 by William Pether to reproduce Wright’s somewhat sensational, recent “The Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery”, the first such reproductive print to be published after a work by Wright, and therefore, for any artist, a moment laden with professional and personal promise. But Wright had easy access to a plentiful supply of other models in mezzotint for life-sized portrait heads. When Paul Mellon bought the present drawing, it was thought to be a self-portrait and was published as such several times. However, it bears only a vague and superficial resemblance to securely documented self-portraits by Wright (ten in number) and indeed differs from them in several respects, namely, the cleft chin and the nose, which is much larger than Wright’s and decidedly hooked by comparison. Instead, Gillian Forrester has raised the possibility that this is a portrait of the artist’s good friend Peter Perez Burdett. Wright had painted Burdett and his wife in 1765, and Burdett reappears as a model in several of Wright's subject pictures, including the “Orrery” and “Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candle-Light” (1765, private collection). The presence of fancy costume in this portrait, particularly the “Van Dyck” collar and cuff, which are also conspicuous in Wright’s “Academy by Lamplight”, of around 1768, is consistent with David Solkin’s suggestion that in the latter work “we are dealing with the projection of an imagined ideal as opposed to a portrayal grounded in reality” (Solkin, 1993, p. 242). Wright’s methods and recurring preoccupations defy easy categorization, however, and a form of dress that elsewhere conjures something of the formality and performance of masquerade here frames a portrait head of startling, disarming intimacy, and Rembrandtesque warmth.
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  • Bibliograpic reference :: 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, p. 242, N5205.7 G7 S65 1993 (YCBA)
  • Bibliograpic reference :: 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, pp. 259-60, no. 40, pl. 40, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)
  • Dimension height :: 36.8cm
  • Dimension width :: 28.6cm
  • Exhibition :: An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy
  • Exhibition :: English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures
  • Exhibition :: Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool
  • Exhibition :: Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art
  • Exhibition :: The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century
  • Located in :: New Haven
  • Located in :: Not on view
  • Located in :: Yale Center for British Art
  • Object type :: drawing
  • Subject Concept :: collar
  • Subject Concept :: figure study
  • Subject Concept :: genre subject
  • Subject Concept :: hand
  • Subject Concept :: hat
  • Subject Concept :: man
  • Subject Concept :: portrait
  • Subject Concept :: ruff
  • Subject Concept :: turban
?:PX_display_wrap
  • ...
?:PX_has_credit_line
  • Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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?:label
  • Portrait of a Man
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