Completed East of England and The Midlands: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 72 Can more be established about this painting, currently attributed to Joseph Wright of Derby?

Richard Lovett
Topic: Artist

This is possibly a copy after the portrait by Wright of Derby, rather than the original, of which Robert Hancock executed a mezzotint which was published by W Richardson in London, with impressions in the British Museum ( and National Portrait Gallery (

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The attribution has been changed from ‘Joseph Wright of Derby (attributed to)’ to ‘John Wright (active 1750s–c.1772)’. The date has been adjusted from c.1760 to c.1766. There is now a biography of John Wright on Art UK.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


The Collection has commented: 'In relation to the attribution of the painting, we have long questioned this ourselves but never had the time to take forward. The painting originally came from the Gabb Collection of scientific portraits and this is where the attribution stems. It would be interesting to know if anyone else knows of a portrait painting of Richard Lovett by Joseph Wright? We spent quite a lot of time last year researching this issue and consulted with Lucy Bamford, Curator at Derby Museum about this painting. The suggestions were that the portrait certainly lacks the quality and attention to detail of Wright’s work, nor is it in the Wright’s account book at the NPG archive, although this is not the end of the matter. [Neither is it in Benedict Nicholson's catalogue]

There were a few thoughts including that the original portrait might have been touched up or over painted at some point. Another explanation is that the ‘I. Wright’ referred to in the print inscription is not Wright of Derby but another painter entirely. Lucy Bamford wondered if it might be the American Joseph Wright, who was in England in the late 1770s until 1781 could be a candidate here? He appears to have exhibited work at both the RA and the Society of Artists in 1780; the latter a painting of an unnamed gentleman. On this point we were not sure who to seek advice from. There is apparently a catalogue of his work was published in 1985 by Monroe H. Fabian for the Smithsonian but due to the current covid situation I have not been able to access a copy.'

Christopher Foley,

The book on Joseph Wright not of Derby is actually a catalogue of the exhibition of his works held in 1985 at the Smithsonian Institute, and is called "Joseph Wright, American Artist, 1756-1793". I have a copy, but am unable to access it for a couple of weeks. I will check it out asap. This Wright painted several portraits of Ben Franklin in Europe, & went on to design some of the early post-independence American currency.

Martin Hopkinson,

One should compare the mezzotint of Peter Labilliere by Henry Kingsbury after the Amercan painter published December 1 1780 [ impressions in the National PortraIit Gallery and the British Museum]

Jimaa Alaa,

It’s a copy and you can find the original information under. Portraits – In Print Exhibition
Engraving, Richard Lovett, after Joseph Wright of Derby, Engraved by R. Hancock, 18th Century, Inv. 90133

Jacinto Regalado,

It is certainly not autograph Wright of Derby. Unfortunately, the print (NPG) does not say in whose hands the original picture was at the time, though presumably in those of the family. Also, the given date of c. 1760 seems too early even for the original, as the sitter looks rather older than c. 68.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this is not after Wright of Derby, it could obviously be an original by someone else, such as the American Joseph Wright. That could explain why the picture is not in Nicolson.

Jacob Simon,

The book, “Joseph Wright, American Artist, 1756-1793”, by Monroe H. Fabian, which Christopher identified, can be consulted by the hour on the Internet Archive.

We should seriously consider whether Richard Lovett (1692–1780) was painted by this American artist while he was in London in the late 1770s or even in 1780. I suspect that it has nothing to do with Wright of Derby.

The example of the engraving after the picture in the National Portrait Gallery has the address, 174 Strand. The British Museum site suggests that the publisher, William Richardson, was at this address, 1783-85. Looking at the prints by this publisher on the National Portrait Gallery site makes me think that Richardson may have been at this address somewhat earlier, possibly by 1777. However the sheer number of prints issued under the name of this prolific publisher, who operated from several addresses, makes this hard work. The standard books on 18th-century engravers are not accessible to me at the moment.

We should consider whether the print was published shortly after Lovett’s death in 1780.

The dimensions of 76 x 62.3 cm suggest this was originally a 30 x 25 inch canvas, before it was 'marouflaged' onto fibreboard which was probably done at the NMM before it went to Oxford in 1960 as a long loan later converted to gift (1986). That is an unlikely size for the original of such a subject: 50 x 40 would be more likely, so 'after Wright' is the probable conclusion irrespective of which Wright it is. The provenance in the Gabb Collection is unsurprising: NMM received that whole via its founding benefactor Sir James Caird, including a large holding of watches which were later 'collection-swapped' with the Science Museum. The larger oil on canvas which accompanied this painting to Oxford in 1960 and was also later transferred (their ref 56486) is of another natural philosopher, J.T. Desaguliers (1683-1744). Greenwich of course kept everything ex-Gabb that is maritime or astronomy related, including all five of the Galileo portraits that Gabb had acquired - the largest group (exc. prints) that there is, inc. the earliest and latest 'from life' and two busts (17th and 18th c).

Kieran Owens,

Rather than being by either Wright of Derby or Wright of America, this painting is more likely to be by J. Wright of Frome, in Somerset.

In the DNB entry for the engraver Robert Hancock (1730 - 1817), it mentions that he engraved "after J. Wright of Frome, portraits of W. Hopley, Verger of Worcester Cathedral; of J. Wright (the painter’s own father); of himself (Hancock)...".

On page 619 of John Challoner Smith's 'British Mezzotint Portraits' he lists the following work by Hancock:

"A small mezzotint of Wright of Frome, father to Wright the painter, is catalogued in the Buckingham sale (1834), lot 3,028. The print is mentioned by Bromley, page 416, but not as a mezzotint."

Michael Bryan, in his 1849 ‘Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical’ identifies the painter’s father as “James Wright, of Frome”. By contrast, the father of Joseph Wright of Derby was John ‘Equity’ Wright, a local attorney.

In John Chambers’ ‘Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire’, he adds that Wright of Frome was employed by Mr. West, though this is contradicted in The Academy review below :

According to the British Museum’s records, William Richardson operated from 174 Strand from no earlier than 1783 and at least until 1787. By 1794, he was operating from 2, Castle Street, Leicester Square. According to John Challoner Smith’s ‘British Mezzotint Portraits’, a print of ‘Lady Elizabeth Delme and children,’, after Reynolds, was published “April 1790 by W. Richardson, Ancient & Modern Print Warehouse, No. 174, Strand.”

On this basis, the print of Richard Lovett, as well as that of William Hopley, must have been made (or certainly published) between 1783 and c.1790.

In 1886, the Chiswick Press published A. Randall Ballentyne's "Robert Hancock & His Work". The review of it, in The Academy, of July to December 1886, carried the following line:

"It is certain that Joseph Wright of Derby was not the son of James Wright of Frome."

In a biographical text in 'The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist' (1863/1864), W. Bemrose mentions that Joseph Wright was "usually known as "Wright of Derby" in contradistinction to another painter of the same name...". This is unlikely to have been the American Joseph Wright, as the "Wright of Derby" usage was already in place by the 1760s, when the American painter was still a boy.

Exactly who Wright of Frome is has yet to be established, but he is likely not to be either Wright of Derby or Wright of America. If this is the case, then the NPG and the BM entries (and elsewhere) for the 174 Strand prints of Richard Lovett and William Hopley in their collections need to be re-attributed.

Kieran Owens,

One interesting article appeared in the Worcestershire Chronicle, of Saturday 21st September 1901, in which it is mentioned that portraits of Robert Hancock, Richard Lovett and William Hopley were donated to the Victoria Institute in Worcestershire by R. W. Tomlinson. Whether these were originals or prints is unclear, but if the whereabouts of the Victoria Institute collection is known, perhaps its catalogue could be consulted to establish these portraits' locations.

It might be useful to know if all (or any) of the detailed engraved and printed inscriptions that the Hancock print clearly shows were visible in the prime version of the portrait are readable on the Oxford painting. Slight differences between the latter and the print suggest the Oxford oil is still 'after' whichever of the three Wrights painted the original: e.g in the print the ink-pot is firmly on the front of the table, but in the Oxford oil overlapping the front edge.

Martin Hopkinson,

Given this existence of a Wright of Frome, it is necessary to investigate whether he painted the portrait mentioned above of Peter Labilliere [1725- 1800] , engraved in 1780 by Henry Kingsbury. He was from Dublin and bizarrely buried upside down on Box Hill. A major in the British army he became a political agitator and frequent correspondent of Benjamin Franklin, and also known as Peter Labelliere. In 1780 he may have been living in Chiswick

“Joseph Wright, American Artist, 1756-1793”, by Monroe H. Fabian, was published on the occasion of the 1985 NPG, Washington, exhibition but the catalogue is ”a catalogue raisonné of all the works of Wright that have survived or have been recorded” (foreword, p.9). There is no mention of this portait, or of one of Lovett. The American Joseph Wright does not seem to have been as sophisticated an artist as the author of this portait of Lovett. He was a student at the RA Schools from 1775 and moved to Paris in 1781 and was back in Ameica in 1781.

The Science Museum's copy of the mezzotint print is dated by them to 1766, as is Oxford's portrait. On what basis, I wonder?

Kieran Owens,

The link above leads to Lovett's 1766 edition wherein the two charts illustrated in the painting as well as all of the instruments that can be see on his table are represented by various plates at either end of the book, prior to the appendix.

Kieran Owens,

Although the book was originally published in 1758, attached is the advertisement that appeared in The Oxford Journal of Saturday 9th August 1766 announcing the issuing of a later edition of Lovett's 'Philosophical Essays'.

As Lovett had died in 1780, and the prints were published from 1783 or later, the painting and the prints could have been a posthumous exercise designed to condense Lovett's life interests into one visual whole. Alternatively, the painting could have been painted at an earlier date (after 1766) and the prints published after it in a posthumous acknowledgement of his achievements.

Also, the attached extract from the Worcestershire Chronicle, of Saturday 3rd August 1901, seems to clarify that the portraits donated by R. W. Tomlinson to the Victoria Institute were Hancock's prints and not the original paintings.

Jacinto Regalado,

The Mr West mentioned in that entry from Bromley's catalogue is presumably the painter Benjamin West.

Kieran Owens,

He is most probably and the confusing issue there is that Benjamin West was the mentor of Joseph Wright of America, the latter having " learned to model in wax with his mother Patience Lovell Wright; painting under Benjamin West and Wright's brother-in-law John Hoppner...".

It could be that, even as early as Bromley's 1793 catalogue, all of these J. Wrights were being mistaken for each other.

Matthew Craske,

This is easily solved Go to Lovett's Philosophical essays and look at the subscribers This includes John Wright portrait painter salop, a local painter who was author of this and the other Worcester Cathedral pictures. Not Wright of DERBY NOT THE aMERCIAN SON OF pATIENCE wRIGHT. Salop if I recall is shropshire
I worked this one out about five years ago.
mATTHEW craske

Matthew Craske,

The date of the picture must be 1766, as it is clear on the bottom of the print that it commemorates the publication of the book that is being opened.

Martin Hopkinson,

The engraver of this portrait is Robert Hancock 1731 - 1817, who joined the Worcester Porcelain Company in 1756, of which he became a partner in 1772
Cyril Cook, Life and work of Robert Hancock, Chapman & Hall. 1948 may mention Lovett. a larger supplement by Cook was published in 1955

Martin Hopkinson,

David Alexander, pp.418-419 refers to further bibliography including A Randall , Robert Hancock and his works, 1889 and mentions his 'delightfully naive pictures of Worcester characters' - and is generally very informative abut Hancock's printmaking
Also Audrey J Toppin, Transactions of The English Ceramic Circle. 1, 2, 1934

Jacob Simon,

Matthew Craske's post (02/02/2023) holds the answer to this discussion. Yet neither of the two groups to which this portrait is assigned has a group leader. In the circumstances, would ArtUK accept a summing up from myself? I'm not going to spend time on this without some encouragement!

Osmund Bullock,

Both the NPG and BM have now amended the details accompanying their copies of the print to follow Mr Craske's findings, at least in part. While the NPG now dates it to 1766 (when Lovett's 'Philosophical Essays' was published), the BM continues to consider c.1783 more likely - based presumably on their belief that the publisher William Richardson was only at the address on the print (174 Strand) from 1783 to 1785. Jacob, however, has questioned this (13/05/2021 18:16), so without further research the date of the print must remain in doubt. Our painting cannot in any case be later than 1780 when Lovett died.

The title page of Lovett's book, to which he points in both painting and print, can be seen here (albeit with the illustration folded up) ; the page with the painter John Wright's name among the subscribers is at

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, I see that Kieran provided a link to that edition and indeed copy of the book two years ago.

Jacob Simon,

Matthew Craske's post (02/02/2023) holds the answer to this discussion.

Yet how does one close a discussion when there is no group leader?

Marcie Doran,

'Aris's Birmingham Gazette' of Monday, September 10, 1764, includes a notice placed by a portrait painter named John Wright. He lived in Shrewsbury “at Mrs. Morton’s, in Dogpole” and taught: "Drawing Figures, Landscapes, Perspective, Fruits, Flowers and [illegible]." My attachment failed.

Osmund Bullock,

Well spotted, Marcie, though I think it was actually at Mrs Bolton's in Dogpole (a street in the centre of Shrewsbury) that he lived. I'll see if I can upload an image.

Nope, it won't work for me either.

Osmund Bullock,

Perhaps it's time to abandon this depressingly leaky old tub. For years it’s been a battle to keep it sailing, with problem after problem patched and jury-rigged, but seldom properly repaired. The captain, gawd bless ‘er, has been doing her best, given the state of the vessel and the owners' reluctance and/or inability to keep it seaworthy; but their lack of enthusiasm has increasingly rubbed off on me, and I see little point in clinging to a barely-floating wreck which is going to the breaker’s yard anyway in a couple of months.

Such a pity: she was a fine ship once, and I used to be so proud of her.

Marcie Doran,

Osmund! It will all work out. Collections have greatly benefited by having their works thoroughly researched by a panel of keenly interested parties.

Thanks for the correction - yes, he lived at Mrs. Bolton's.

The first five works at this link by an artist named John Wright (c. 1760-1820) are of people who lived in Shropshire.{LPARENTHESES} c.+1760+-+1820)

There is also a John Wright (c. 1745-1820) at this link.

Jacinto Regalado,

We can still be proud, Osmund, though I quite understand your sentiments. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that most of the work (and a great deal or it) has transpired behind the scenes, with cases being solved right and left away from public view or notice. It is work that probably would not have been done otherwise, either due to lack of resources or other priorities, though it is the sort of work which was once of primary concern for art collections. Times have changed.

Here is a summary so far on what has really been a ‘disambiguation’ issue between three artists of whom the first two should now be dismissed:

1. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97), son of a John Wright, a local lawyer there.

Despite long attribution, Wright of Derby has nothing to do with the portrait of Richard Lovett, Lay Clerk of Worcester Cathedral and author of ‘Philosophical Essays’ published there in 1766. Nor does he have any family connection with a James Wright of Frome, himself not recorded as a painter but only the father of one long called just ‘J. Wright of Frome’.

2. Joseph Wright (1756-93) an American, son of Prudence Lovell Wright and a pupil/assistant of Benjamin West. He was in England /Europe in the late 1770s and to 1781, including exhibiting at the RA.

John Chambers in ‘Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire’ (1820, p. 485), in speaking of the Worcester-born engraver Robert Hancock (1730-1817) and his engraved portrait of James Wright of Frome, is wrong in identifying the latter as ‘father of a painter [meaning no. 2 above] employed by Mr. West’. In this he is probably repeating p. 416 of Henry Bromley’s 1793 ‘Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits in the British Museum’ which identifies only ‘J. Wright’ as artist of Hancock’s print of ‘James? WRIGHT’ (sic) and with the same employment link to West. (On the same page West’s man, Joseph son of Patience, separately appears next but one below, after Wright of Derby, as subject of a small oval print engraved and/or sold by ‘J.W.’)

3. John Wright of Frome

The original entry on Hancock in DNB appears to be accurate in saying that he engraved ‘after J. Wright of Frome, portraits of W. Hopley, Verger of Worcester Cathedral [and] of J[ames]. Wright (the painter’s own father)’ and others. The essential confusion in all references up to that date seems to have been ignorance of the given name of the painter son of James of Frome. As first pointed out in this stream by Matthew Craske (02/02/2023) this was clearly John, a ‘Portrait Painter’, then of ‘Salop’ (Shrewsbury) as listed in the subscribers to Lovett’s 1766 ‘Essays’. Since John also painted portraits of others connected to Worcester Cathedral, as well as his own father James (of Frome, Somerset), he is beyond reasonable doubt the ‘J. Wright’ who painted Lovett.

When the portrait and Hancock print from it were done is less clear: perhaps 1766 or shortly after, marking the book’s publication, and at least before 1780 when Lovett died. Given that Hancock was also a Worcester man, however, Lovett’s death might have prompted the engraving as a commemorative one. That would also fit better with its issue by William Richardson from 174, The Strand, London, since he is only known to have been based there from 1783.

All we otherwise seem to know definitely of John Wright is - as Marcie has now spotted - from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of 10 September 1764 when he was living at ‘Mrs Bolton’s,’ in Dogpole, a street in central Shrewsbury, and placed an advertisement for ‘Drawing Figures, Landscapes, Perspective, Fruits, Flowers and [something illegible].’

Vital dates for John, son of James of Frome, or other proven family or art information would be useful: otherwise this could wind up.

Marcie Doran,

That’s a useful summary, Pieter. I haven’t been able to find John Wright’s family tree.

I see that my first link failed (05/04/2024 12:43). Here is one of the works by John Wright (c. 1760-1820).

The miniature painter John Wright, who lived in an apartment at 54 Old Bond Street, sadly committed suicide in March 1820 ('Commercial Chronicle (London)' - 9 March 1820). According to the record of his burial (St. George, Hanover Square), he was 49 years of age. His will (PROB 11/1636/199) mentions many specific works of art that are mostly miniatures. It also mentions several family members including his brother Thomas Henry Wright ("late of Jamaica"), his son John William Wright, his "natural daughter Emma Withers" and his "dearest Mother". His possessions were sold at a Christie's auction in April 1820 ('New Times (London)' - 24 March 1820). He was too young to be the artist that we are seeking. He might have been the artist John Wright (c. 1745-1820).

A notice in the 'Oxford Journal' of 16 February 1760 states:
"OXFORD, Feb. 17, 1760. TO BE SOLD, A Fine PICTURE of Dr. MEAD, by JOHN WRIGHT, Pourtrait [sic] Painter, at Mr. Sampson King's, opposite the Bear Inn, in the High Street".

Assuming that the artist was the John Wright we are seeking, this would push his birth year back by four years. "Dr. Mead" was likely the physician and art collector Dr. Richard Mead (1673-1754). The portrait by Wright would have been a copy.

Agree that Ancestry doesn't look hopeful: the only John, son of James and Margaret Wright I could readily see was born a bit south of Frome at Yarlington (bap tised there 2. 4. 1738) and was buried there in March 1800, so looks like just a 'local': James not otherwise readily apparent either. Our man sounds like a probably fairly itinerant practitioner.

The American man's mother was Patience (my 'Prudence' as first mentioned was just a slip).

Marcie Doran,

When John Wright of Yarlington married Amy Hunt in 1777, they each placed a mark on the register. He wouldn’t have been the artist who taught students in 1764.

Quite so. My first thought from his birth and death being in the same place was 'local yokel', but it didn't seem fair to say so without further proof. No doubt wise in his way but Q.E.D as regards literacy.

Marcie Doran,

A notice in the ‘Derby Mercury’ of Friday, 29 July, 1768, states:

"This Day is Published,
And Sold by SAMUEL FOX, Bookseller in DERBY,
A Curious Mezzo-Tinto print of a PHILOSOPHER, giving a Lecture on the Orrery, from an original Picture, painted by Mr. Joseph Wright, of Derby, now in the Collection of the Right Hon. the Earl of Ferrers, Price 15s.“

Osmund Bullock,

I’m quite certain our portrait has nothing to do with Joseph Wright of Derby, except inasmuch as it and others by John Wright have mistakenly been attributed to him in the absence of any other known contenders.

Regrettably, it also has nothing to do with the portraits by another John Wright at Benthall Hall either, all of which can be seen here Despite the proximity of Benthall to Shrewsbury (c. 15 miles), the portraits were in fact painted in Devon.

The Bent(h)all family’s residence at the Hall is confusing, because they were there for many centuries until the death of Richard Bentall in 1720, and again in the 20th Century. However, in between they were not. The exact nature of the intervening ownership is very complicated, and after some research into Wills and various court cases, it seems that neither the NT ( nor Burke’s Landed Gentry has it quite right**. However, the upshot is clear: descendants of Richard’s first cousin Katherine, who in 1681 had married Ralph Browne of nearby Caughley, were in both possession and residence in the mid-C18th. Things are less clear after the death of a later Ralph Browne in 1763 and his widow Anne (nee Turner) in 1767 – her Will is particularly long and complex – but fortunately we don’t have to go into that. The property did *not* go to anyone called Bent(h)all, no-one of the name lived there in the 2nd half of the C18th, and it was not until 1934 that a very distant cousin Mary Clementina Benthall bought the house (preceded briefly by her uncle Charles as tenant only). MCB was from a junior branch that had moved to Essex in the C16th, and thence to Totnes and Dartington in Devon in the 1750s.

[**I’ve just found this very full and accurate exposition:]

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, that last link doesn't work - though Art UK's IT guy eventually fixed the problem with links adjacent to round brackets, it seems it didn't occur to him to do the same for square ones. This should work:

Osmund Bullock,

To continue...all those Benthall Hall portraits (bar possibly the unidentified Mr Welch) were painted in Devon, not Shropshire. Sadly there are no images of the informative inscriptions on their backs; but three are said to be dated 1782, and one of these (of William Bentall 1736-1811, of Totnes & later Buckfast Abbey – he was the one who moved to Devon) apparently gives details of the artist – “Jn Wright...No 65 Titchfield Street Cavendish Square London and Totnes”.

The NT oddly identifies him as the suicidal miniaturist John Wright, who had no known Devon connection, and whose work is very different and much superior; he is also most unlikely to have been painting in 1782, as although his year of birth is commonly given as c. 1760, it is more likely to have been c. 1770 (as Marcie has shown - 05/04/2024 17:31). I think I may have found his baptism in London in April 1770 (the son of a goldsmith), but that’s another matter. Incidentally, the other John Wright miniaturist (“c. 1745-1820”) mentioned by Marcie is in fact the same man – many sources, possibly originating with Benezit, conflate him with an engraver Inigo Wright (fl. 1770s), said to have been born c. 1745 (or sometimes 1740); I can find no evidence they were the same man. Both Redgrave & Bryan list them separately.

Osmund Bullock,

After all that evidence about people who are *not* our artist, here is another portrait that is surely by the same man…not that it helps pin him down much, but I can’t believe it was missed it till now: (also on Art UK).

It is signed and dated; I think it reads ‘J. Wright pinxt. / 1767’ - see attached detail (if it works). I don’t think it can be posthumous: Robert Howorth, sword-bearer to the Corporation of Worcester from 1756, died so late in 1767 (2nd Dec) that it seems unlikely Wright would have had time to paint such a large and detailed canvas before the end of the year. Two other attachments herewith (possibly!) re his death and burial, though they add nothing to what’s on the Guildhall website.

The year of this one being so close to the 1766 publication of Lovett’s book, I am now inclined to think our portrait probably is from the same sort of date, with the print issued later following his death. We really have no evidence of a life/ career for Wright outside the 1760s, and that limited to the West Midlands (and quite possibly Oxford).

EDIT: No, still no luck with attachments

A skim through the BM's Hancock prints after 'Wright' indicates long misapprehension that the original artist of them all was Wright of Derby, rather than John Wright.

Another so far under the general radar there is two Hancock/Richardson versions (one facing left and one right) of the 71-year-old Ed.[ward?] Scofield, Clerk of St Chad's, Shrewsbury, notable for being only 3ft 4in. tall. Scofield's vital dates, which would clarify when he reached 71, are not readily apparent by general web search. The Royal Collection copy of this is wrongly attributed to the same John Wright (c.1760-1820) who is reported as painter of the National Trust's Benthall family portraits now at Benthall Hall. It is therefore useful to know the latter appears to have been someone else operating in Devon when they were done.

Also not apparent online in the BM holding is the print of James Wright of Frome after 'J. Wright' (i.e. our presumed father and son) listed there by Bromley in his 1793 catalogue, though confused by him as father of West's American-born assistant, Joseph Wright.

Marcie Doran,

That is fascinating research. Ancestry shows an Edward Scofield son of Edmond Scofield and Jane was born on the 12th Sept. 1700. He was baptized on the 18th Sept. 1700 at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury.

The print of Edward Scofield appeared in a sale on the 26th Jan. 1786. The group of five mezzotints included that of William Hopley. The other three works were: "Madox, the Equilibrist, Lebeck the Cook, and Capt. Edward Polehampton".

Thanks Marcie: if correct that takes us to a 1771 painting date: any luck with when Scofield died?

The prints of Maddox, Lebeck and Polehampton (all known) have no Wright connection.

Osmund Bullock,

In 'Eddowes's Shrewsbury Journal' of Wednesday 28 December 1881 is this short piece:

In St. Chad's vestry is preserved the likeness of Edward Schofield, who was only three feet and two inches in height. He was a native of the town, born in 1699. He served the office of Deputy Clerk of St. Chad’s Church, and died in 1777.'

That's likely to have been a copy of the print, of course...but could equally have been the original painting. Certainly worth an email to St Chad's in case it survives.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion concerns a small three-quarter length portrait of Richard Lovett (1692–1780), writer on electricity, in the collection of the University of Oxford’s History of Science Museum. The discussion asks, “Can more be established about this painting, currently attributed to Joseph Wright of Derby?”

We now know that the portrait is by John Wright, sometimes called John Wright of Frome, his likely birthplace, or John Wright of Shropshire, where he worked for a time (Kieran Owens, 14/05/2021, Matthew Craske, 02/02/2023). It was engraved as a mezzotint by Robert Hancock and published by William Richardson from 174 Strand, his address from 1783 until at least 1787. So the mezzotint would appear to be posthumous since Lovett died in 1780.

However the portrait itself may date to about 1766 when Lovett’s “Philosophical Essays” were published. Among the subscribers to the book were John Wright, portrait painter, Shropshire. While 1766 is a likely date, the portrait could have been painted a few years earlier or later but in any case before Lovett’s death in 1780.

Thanks to Pieter (05/04/2024) and to other contributors (Marcie, 05/04/2024, Osmund, 09/04/2024, etc), we have been able to distinguish between several painters going by the name, J. Wright. Furthermore, Pieter has written a biography for our John Wright, which has been posted on Art UK and which will be linked to our portrait when the discussion closes.

I recommend that this discussion should be closed. Subject to the agreement of the Collection the artist should be amended to John Wright (active 1750s–c.1772) and the portrait dated to circa 1766.

No answer yet from St Chad, Shrewsbury, about the nature of the Edward Scofield portrait there (if it still is). Also note two slips of mine in the summary of 05/04/2024, but corrected in the Wright biography: Hancock the engraver was not 'Worcester-born', just long connected there and Bromley's 1793 engraved British portraits catalogue was wide-ranging, perhaps including but not just those in the BM.

Just to split a further hair with Jacob, who by 'John Wright of Shropshire' implies translation of 'Salop' that way from Wright's entry in the Lovett subscriber list of 1766.

I am fairly sure it specifically means 'Shrewsbury' in the context, and as far as I can see he was the only subscriber from the town apart from John Walker 'Surgeon, at Shrewsbury Infirm[ary]' who appears at the bottom of p. xxiii.

At the top of Wright's page (xxiv) appears Mr William Witherings of 'Wellington [set roman], Shropshire [set italic]' which is the form for all such town/county references in the list (this also being the only other Shropshire one I have spotted) with subscribers professions/positions such as 'Attorney', 'Grocer' etc., also given in italic when applicable.

Wright is noted as 'Portrait Painter [in italic], Salop [roman]' which I think is enough to suggest he was then still specifically resident in the town, and that 'Wright of Shrewsbury' would be a justifiable alternative to 'Wright of Frome' based on known residence.

Jacob Simon,

Pieter is probably right in his understanding of 'Salop'. However, in using 'John Wright of Shopshire' in my post of 15/05/2024 I was following the descriptions implied by the BM and the NPG, less precise than Shrewsbury but still accurate.

What matters in this discussion is identifying John Wright as the artist. Quite how he is further identified beyond adding his dates is a matter of choice. Personally I am cautious about adding a place name unless long traditional. But what Pieter says is correct, namely 'Wright of Shrewsbury' would be a justifiable alternative to 'Wright of Frome'.

The headline identification should be: John Wright (active 1750s–c.1772).

Osmund Bullock,

The '1750s' part presumably stems from accepting not only that the portraitist John Wright, who in the Oxford Journal of 16 Feb 1760 advertised a picture of Dr Mead for sale, was the same artist (Marcie 05/04/2024 17:31 - and now attached), but also that it had been painted at least a couple of months earlier. I'm inclined to accept the first part - while Oxford is 56 miles from Worcester (the nearest place we know our man was active), which is quite a stretch, but Shrewsbury is almost as far in exactly the opposite direction. As to the second, I think 'active c.1760-c.1772' might be safer - as far as I know, there is no other evidence he might have been working as early as the 1750s, or have I missed something?

Jacob Simon,

Osmund is right in expressing reservations. Yet the nature of research into obscure portrait painters is often subject to reservations.

In my experience minor portrait painters were often peripatetic. So it is possible that our John Wright was working in Oxford before moving to Shrewsbury. And I'd be cautious about creating yet another John Wright, portrait painter, separate to our man.

Wright's Dr Mead presumably dates to the 1750s as Marcie has argued. To accommodate Osmund's legitimate reservations, lets add a question mark:

The headline identification should be: John Wright (active 1750s?–c.1772).

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, Dr (Richard) Mead died in 1754, so if painted ad vivum I have my answer. But Wright's portrait is perhaps more likely, as Marcie suggests, to have been after another work, or indeed a print (of which there are several).

Osmund Bullock,

As I wrote (but perhaps didn't make clear), I had on reflection no reservations about them being the same artist; it was only the 1750s part I was querying. Your suggested amendment covers it admirably.

Osmund Bullock,

As to what to call him, you may well be right, Jacob, that leaving out a place name altogether is the safest way to go.

It does leave us, though, with precious little bar a brief and uncertain window of time to help people know who we’re talking about. There are, as we’ve found, several others with whom he can be, and has been confused: the artist of the Benthall portraits, John Wright of Titchfield Street, London and Totnes (fl. 1782); John Wright the miniaturist – c.1770-1820, but often found recorded as born 1760, 1745 or even 1740, the latter two dates an apparent conflation with an engraver, Inigo Wright (fl. c.1770, but little else known); and of course the two Joseph Wrights, with whom confusion will remain as ‘our’ John Wright’s name on various prints is usually given as just ‘I/J. Wright, and his only known signature is also as ‘J. Wright’ (

Incidentally, should we now add this print to the list of those after portraits by our John Wright, since a publication date of 1778 clearly rules out John the miniaturist?

Osmund Bullock,

If a place name were to be added, I would lean towards 'of Shrewsbury', as it's the only place we know for certain he was based - not only from the 'Salop' descriptor in 1766 (I fully accept Pieter's logic), but from that other advert of Sep 1764 found by Marcie (05/04/2024 00:11 and attached), which unarguably places him in the town in Sep 1764, and as a resident artist with a known address. But one could also argue that ‘of Worcester’ might be the most helpful, since that is where four of the six portraits by him we know anything about are likely to have been painted, and one of them is both signed and dated.

However, my feelings on the subject are not strong, and I will happily accept what those with experience in deciding appropriate titles decide.

Osmund Bullock,

Some final thoughts about the long-standing ‘of Frome’. The problem there is that nothing we have found in our research supports the idea of a connection with the Somerset town – the only source seems to be Bromley in 1793 (with others apparently following suit), and he is uncertain of the father’s name (James?), and thinks the son was the American Joseph. And even for an itinerant painter, Frome seems a very long way off - 120 miles from Shrewsbury, 75 from Worcester…or is it?

There is, it appears, a whole clutch of villages called something-Frome – Bishop’s Frome, Castle Frome, etc – just 14 or 15 miles from Worcester, that lie along the River Frome just over the border in Herefordshire. See attached map. This seems a more likely place for the artist to have originated than Somerset. I’m not sure how helpful it is to introduce the idea at this late stage – our clock is ticking, and I for one don’t have time to follow it through. But as ever, I’ve done the work, and it seems a pity just to bin it.

In converting Art UK discussions into potted biographies my topographical insertions like 'Giacomo Manzoni (of Bergamo)' have usually been to 'disambiguate' from at least one other of the same name (in this case the Giacomo Manzoni known -and also 'headlined' on Art UK - as Giacomo Manzu).

The next two coming up will be the two (not three as implied by Graves) William Henry Masons, one 'of Chichester' and the other of 'East Retford, Notts.' -their respective birthplaces, as in the Bergamo man's case - though the Retford man will be no. 12 on the 'no work on Art UK' list.

Wright produces a specific separate issue, which is the long history of a probably mistaken association with Frome (be it Somerset or another) based on Bromley's, additional 1793 mistake of mixing him up with the Joseph Wright who was West's assistant. In his case retaining Frome at all - let alone changing it to Shrewsbury as the only place we have good reason to think he specifically lived for at least two years (1764-66), rather than just visited - was a case of minimum change so as not to add further confusion with references in older sources.

The one place where it is most useful to have such geographical tags is not as the 'artist headline' under the work but in any nominal index where names fully duplicate. There are currently six 'John Wrights' on Art UK (inc the present one, with 'of Frome' picking up from how his biography is currently listed) only otherwise distinguishable on a list by dates - which is not confusing for specialists but may be at first sight for others.

I have no issue with Jacob's recommendation of 'John Wright, active 1750s -c.1772' as the artist headline. Whether helpful distinguishing tags like 'of Bergamo, of Frome etc' are retained in the biographical or any other nominal listing is for Art UK to decide, inc. ratonalising any prior inconsistencies as things go forward.

I think the case for NOT adding a query to '1750s?' is pretty clear. I don't think we saw any cutting demonstrating that it was Wright himself who was selling the portrait of Dr Mead (d.1754) in 1760, rather than that it was just being sold; but in either case - and whether from life or posthimously copied - anything being sold publicly in 1760 was axiomatically produced by someone already active and practising to saleable quality in the 1750s, even if only late in that decade.

Osmund Bullock,

I don't disagree with any of that, Pieter, except your interpretation of the Oxford advertisement - and as you say, even if I'm right, it makes no difference to your conclusion about him being active in the 1750s, which I accept.

My reading of the ad (for what it's worth) is that he *is* likely to have been the advertiser/seller. I acknowledge that it could be read either way, but to me the artist's name in full, coupled with the redundant phrase "Po[u]rtrait Painter" (the work being sold is self-evidently by a portrait painter) and the fact that it's capitalised, suggest self-promotion: the High St address** may have been where the Mead picture could be purchased, but is likely also to have been where the painter could be found along with that example of his work. And note that the Shrewsbury advertisement of four years later, undoubtedly from the artist himself, follows the same promotional format: “John Wright, Portrait Painter, at [address]”.

[**Sampson King, whose premises were (I believe) being used by Wright as his Oxford address, was a barber/ hairdresser to the University; he had been admitted in 1756 as a ‘privilegiatus’ (matriculated tradesman - see & He might even have been acting as Wright’s agent: he would doubtless have had good contacts amongst the faculty and student body.]

I've no argument with that, having now spotted the Oxford cutting you added @16/05/2024 18:24 - which I'd forgotten. That King was a barber is also of interest since, greatly more than today they were
shavers as much if not more than hair cutters/dressers (and wig-dressers too): i.e. a place of very regular male-clientele resort where messages could be left and arrangements made etc. The not much later report (c. 1790) of the young JMW Turner's father proudly showing his boyhood drawings in his barber's shop in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, also comes to mind.

Have you chased Master Tomlins Wright, subject of the print you produced: JW's son perhaps?

Now I've re-spotted the cutting (which I'd forgotten) @ 16/05/2024 18:24, I've no argument with that and knowing who King was is itself of interest. Barbers were then (much more than now) shavers as much as hair- (and wig-) dressers, so a place of frequent rather than more occasional male resort where messages could be left/ collected etc and other arrangements made. It's not much later (c.1790) that young JMW Turner's father was proudly showing his son's boyhood drawings in his Maiden Lane, Covent Garden barber's shop.

Youg 'Master Tomlins Wright' of the print you produced might also be worth chasing: an unusual first name and perhaps a son or other relative?

Osmund Bullock,

Re the 1778 'Master Tomlins Wright' print after John Wright - see - I have failed to find any reference anywhere to anyone called 'Tomlins Wright', young or old, though there are some people (but much later) named Wright with Tomlin as a middle name.

Tomlin is essentially a double-diminutive of Tom (Tom-el-in), itself a pet form of Thomas (cf. the surnames Jacklin and some instances of Franklin). An excrescent final ‘s’ or variant is (or was when I was at school) an occasional informal addition to various names (and other words) for no particular reason, though that may have been a public-school silliness – a boy called Ogle was invariably known as Ogles, and there was a 'Biggles' whose surname was actually Bigg.

All of which leads me (finally) to suspect that ‘Tomlins’ could have been just an affectionate family nickname for a boy called Thomas – it’s certainly an unusually warm and informal image of a very appealing-looking little boy, and being as both artist and sitter are called Wright, that does suggest he was likely our artist’s son or close relative. However, Wright has always been a very common English surname (still #14 today), so any search for a Thomas Wright, son/nephew of John, is likely to be quite a challenge.

Jacob Simon,

Since my post of 15/05/2024 recommending closure of this discussion there have been numerous learned contributions on the niceties. I am proposing to make a further closure recommendation in the next day or two. What we can say is that we have greatly advanced knowledge on this portrait and in identifying the correct artist.

Jacob Simon,

My recommendation of 15/05/2024 to close this discussion has brought a flurry of further activity. Thanks to Pieter and others there is now a biography on ArtUK for the artist of our portrait, designated as John Wright (active 1750s–c.1772). There has been discussion as to whether to designate Wright as “of Shrewsbury” to distinguish him from others of the name. There has also been discussion about the precise date range to attach to him. The portrait print of 1778, 'Master Tomlins Wright' after John Wright, has been featured but without pinning down the boy in the print so I think it is too soon to be particular about this.

On balance, I think we should be proud of the fact that we have correctly identified the artist and provided a biography and we should hope that others will build on this in due course which may lead to further refinements. So I continue to recommend that this discussion should be closed. Subject to the agreement of the Collection the artist should be amended to John Wright (active 1750s–c.1772) and the portrait dated to circa 1766.

Thank you, Jacob. Two previous attempts to contact the collection failed, but I have since emailed an address that with luck will be seen by Dr Stephen Johnston, Senior Research Curator.

Pieter has sent more updates for the biography, which I will add today.

Stephen Johnston has kindly replied by return that although he does not have time to digest the details today, he can see that there has been a very extended and careful discussion of this attribution. He is happy for Art UK to update the attribution and he will ensure that the collection's database is edited with this new information.