(Born Derby, 3 September 1734; died Derby, 29 August 1797). English painter, active mainly in his native town and generally known as ‘Wright of Derby’. He was one of the most original, versatile, and accomplished British artists of the 18th century and the first major English painter whose career was based outside London. In 1751–3 and again in 1756–7 he trained under Hudson in London, and after returning to Derby he made a name as a portraitist in the Midlands, his works displaying fluent composition and a firm grasp of character. In the 1760s he began to paint candlelit scenes of various types, showing the fascination with unusual lighting effects that was to run throughout his career. He was influenced in some of these by Dutch painting, but in his depictions of the contemporary scientific world he broke new ground—his most famous work, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768, NG, London), has been described by Sir Ellis Waterhouse as ‘one of the wholly original masterpieces of British art’. Such works won him a considerable reputation, and in 1772 James Northcote called him ‘the most famous painter now living for candle-lights’.
Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)