An 18th-century painting catalogued as being by a ‘Follower of Joshua Reynolds’ at auction has been revealed as a genuine self-portrait by renowned British artist Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 – 1797).
The discovery, a rarity for 18th century works by high-profile British artists, will be unveiled at the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, from the 15th – 20th September.
Acquired by Archie Parker of The Parker Gallery, a leading dealer in Old Master and British works of art, the painting has been traced back to 1793, when records indicate that Wright gifted it to the Rev. Thomas Gisborne of Yoxall.
Gisborne was a close friend of Wright’s and had amassed an extensive collection of paintings and drawings by the artist, including a portrait featuring Gisborne and his wife, two landscapes of the Lake District (subsequently at Kedleston Hall) and a painting of Mount Vesuvius.
In 1793, Wright presented Gisborne with a self-portrait that had, until now, disappeared from view; its existence only known from a copy belonging to the collection of Sir John Crompton-Inglefield. A Latin inscription on the copy’s reverse reads: ‘Joseph Wright the artist presented this painting by his own hand as a gift to his friend T. Gisborne in the year of Our Lord 1793 and 59th of his age’. The newly discovered self-portrait is almost certainly the missing original that inspired the copy, and was later reproduced as the frontispiece of the 1885 monograph, The Life and Works of Joseph Wright A.R.A. commonly called “Wright of Derby”.
Thomas Gisborne (1758-1846) was educated at Harrow. Scholarly and artistic, he was later admitted as a Fellow Commoner to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where his immense achievements pleased his old headmaster, Dr. Heath. In celebration of his achievements, Heath arranged for Gisborne’s portrait to be painted by Wright and despite their significant age difference, Gisborne struck up a friendship with the artist that was to last until the end of Wright’s life.
In 1781, Gisborne was ordained a deacon and then a priest, and subsequently inherited his father’s mansion at Yoxall, three miles from his church. Wright was a frequent guest at the peaceful house and produced some of his most beautiful sketches and studies while exploring the surrounding ancient oak wood. In 1793, Wright was once again staying at Yoxall when he presented Gisborne with the recently discovered self-portrait.
The LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair, sponsored by Killik & Co, takes place in Berkeley Square from 15th to 20th September. For more information see www.lapadalondon.com