National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Italian Landscape Joseph Wright (artist)
British, 1734 - 1797
Italian Landscape, 1790
oil on canvas
overall: 103.5 x 130.4 cm (40 3/4 x 51 5/16 in.) framed: 122.2 x 146.7 x 6.9 cm (48 1/8 x 57 3/4 x 2 11/16 in.)
Paul Mellon Collection
1983.1.47
Not on View
From the Tour: British and American History Paintings of the 1700s
Object 8 of 8

Joseph Wright of Derby, nicknamed after his birthplace in Derbyshire, was noted for dramatic lighting effects such as the twilight cliffs in this imaginary landscape. The contrast of moss-green highlights against rose-violet shadows generates a remarkably decorative effect. These mountains are bracketed between a distant sky of jade and amethyst and a rust-brown foreground with its solitary, seated peasant.

The villas and castles atop the bluffs recall Wright’s studies in Italy from 1773 to 1775, but the rutted road and gentle hills in the front resemble his own central England. Although the inspiration is from ideal landscapes by seventeenth-century artists, the shimmering colors are unique to Joseph Wright. He perfected such enchanting light effects in scenes of blacksmiths at their forges, scientists conducting experiments at night by candles, and moonlit landscapes with erupting volcanos or electrical storms. Note, for instance, Wright’s contrast of different flames in The Corinthian Maid.

For all of his fame at depicting unusual illumination, Wright of Derby earned his income mainly as a portrait painter of the middle-class gentry. Since he chose to live in Derbyshire, Wright was isolated from London’s art circles. Elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1781, he quarreled with that institution and resigned three years later.

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