||WRIGHT OF DERBY Joseph, of Derby (1734-1797), engraved by William PETHER (1738-1821)
Three persons viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight
London: William Pether, July 10, 1769. Mezzotint. State iii/iii missing engraved inscription. A nice impression in good condition. Trimmed just outside platemark on top and side margins. Trimmed within platemark on bottom margin; missing the text. Some areas of expertly executed infill work across sheet. Skilfully mended tear and two puncture marks along top margin. Image size: 17 3/8 x 22 inches. Sheet size: 17 1/2 x 22 1/8 inches.
This impressive print by William Pether after Joseph Wright of Derby, is one of the most important English mezzotints on the market.
During the eighteenth century, England became the heart of the mezzotint trade, producing some of the most celebrated engravers and the most beautiful prints that the medium has ever witnessed. Invented in Germany in 1642, mezzotint engraving quickly became popular throughout Europe as a method of reproducing oil paintings. It was eagerly adopted by English printmakers, who instituted so many technological improvements that the method became known as "the English manner". English mezzotints were eagerly collected; and continental engravers traveled to England to study the technique. Some of the most sought after mezzotints were the candlelight images after Joseph Wright of Derby's magnificent paintings.
Joseph Wright of Derby was fascinated with the effects of light, and made a name for himself by producing what came to be known as candlelight pictures. This innovative genre was typified by its intimate figure groups illuminated by candles or lamps. An attorney's son, he trained as a portrait painter in London before returning to Derby. He was one of the first important English artists to achieve his reputation in the provinces, and his dramatic paintings are still regarded as some of England's most treasured works. His paintings often echoed the sentiments of the Enlightenment by depicting scenes of scientific experiments, new machinery, or artistic study. Wright of Derby's dramatic works provided the perfect medium for contemporary mezzotinters, and his bold brushwork and dramatic use of contrast created an unrivalled effect when translated into mezzotint. This is perfectly exemplified in Pether's magnificent mezzotint, which combines chiaroscuro with a rich velvety texture to create an image, which is nothing short of breathtaking.
This stunning image, exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1765, was Wright of Derby's first exhibited painting and marked his entrance into the English art world. This stunning work earned him a reputation as a unique and innovative painter, and set a precedent for his celebrated candlelight pictures which became a hallmark of his style.
The image depicts three men intently studying a cast copy of the Borghese "Gladiator", which was at the time one of the most admired sculptures of antiquity. The young artist on the right, displaying his drawing, is usually identified as Joseph Wright, and the young man, with his back to the viewer, is thought to be Wright's close friend Peter Perez Burdett. The older man inspecting the cast is generally agreed to be John Wilson, who was an occupant of one of the almshouses in Derby. Pether's dramatic mezzotint was completed four years after Wright of Derby's work was shown, yet it was never exhibited. It is generally considered one of the most sought after mezzotints of its time, for it not only represents the best of Wright of Derby's work, but exemplifies the hey-day of English mezzotint engraving.
Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits 45 state ii/ii; Russell, English Mezzotint Portraits, and their States 45; C.G Boerner, English Mezzotints from the Lennox-Boyd Collection (Exhibition Catalogue) no. 17, state iii/iii; Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby no. 188; Egerton (Tate Gallery Catalogue), Wright of Derby no. 22 & 154, state iii/iii