Art: The Midlander

He had neither Gainsborough's grace nor Reynolds' robust authority. Yet as much as any painter of his time, Joseph Wright of Derby captured the peculiar spirit of 18th century England. On the one hand, there was the century's sense of discovery and pride in scientific investigation, which resulted in a wealth of tools and inventions and, in due course, the Industrial Revolution. On the other, there was its almost mystic appreciation of nature. A rare exhibition of Wright's paintings, drawn entirely from the Paul Mellon Collection and currently on display at Washington's National Gallery, shows that Wright was marvelously attuned to...

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