World famous Joseph Wright portrait on public display in Derby museum for first time in 200 years

Artist Joseph Wright made 'Self-Portrait At The Age of About Forty' in 1772. Credit: Oliver Taylor

A self portrait by a world-renowned artist from Derby will go on public display tomorrow, after being privately owned for 250 years.

Artist Joseph Wright made 'Self-Portrait At The Age of About Forty' in 1772. It was unveiled by the Duke of Devonshire at Derby Museums and Art Gallery this morning.

The portrait was made a year before Wright's influential tour of Italy - which is described as a defining moment in his career.

Who is Joseph Wright and what's makes him so good?

Joseph Wright, also known as Joseph Wright of Derby, is an internationally renown artist - whose paintings and works on paper adorn the walls of major galleries the world over.

Born in Derby in 1734, Wright is famous for capturing scenes from the burgeoning world of science.

Reveal of 'Self-Portrait at the Age of About Forty' by Joseph Wright of Derby, by Tony Butler (Executive Director of Derby Museums) Credit: Oliver Taylor

What is the Joseph Wright portrait and why is the portrait important?

It is one of only 10 self-portraits which depicts him as an artist, capturing his reputation for candlelit paintings.

The painting, completed around 1772, shows Wright holding a porte-crayon, with a white chalk at one end and a black chalk at the other.

On the reverse is a study for Wright’s famous work, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, widely credited as his masterpiece, which was acquired by the National Gallery in 1863.

Owned as part of a private collection since it was completed, the self portrait was acquired as part of a scheme administered by the Arts Council on behalf of the UK Government.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund donated almost £2.3 million towards the acquisition, alongside the Art Fund and a number of private donations.

Arts minister Lord Parkinson said: "It is wonderful that this rare self-portrait by Joseph Wright has been saved for the nation and acquired by Derby Museums."

The painting will be displayed in a free-standing case in order to view the reverse of the painting – which depicts a preliminary study of his famous oil-on-canvas painting An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump.

Lucy Bamford, curator at Derby Museums and Art Gallery, said: "We are extremely excited to be able to add this remarkable painting to our existing Joseph Wright collection.

"The way it depicts his growing confidence as an artist is wonderful, and the incredible verso is the icing on the cake as it tells us so much about his way of working."

Tony Butler, director of Derby Museums, added: "The acquisition of this painting is a triumph for Derby Museums.

"The work has never been in public ownership having remained in private hands since it as executed in a studio not far from where Derby Museum and Art Gallery is now.

"We feel a palpable sense of ‘bringing Joseph Wright of Derby back home’.

"It has been a remarkable achievement for a regional museum organisation like Derby Museums to secure the funding to save this wonderful painting for the nation."