The East Midlands has a varied social and industrial history and a topography that ranges from the gritstone edges of the Derbyshire Peak District to the flatlands of the Lincolnshire fens, on to the coast. It encompasses the coalfields of Nottinghamshire, which payrolled the aristocratic estates of the ‘Dukeries’, to the gently rolling agricultural landscape of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, punctuated by industrial centres and historic market towns. The region has thus provided a wide scope of topographical subjects for artists from the seventeenth century onwards. The changes wrought since the beginnings of the industrial revolution have also been recorded: dramatic iron forges, cotton mills lit at night, complex engineering works, abandoned lead and coal mines, new forests.
Textiles – silk, cotton and wool; creating spun thread, hosiery and lace – were a central East Midlands industry, alongside Northampton’s leatherworks and shoe manufacture. Joseph Wright of Derby participated in the vibrant intellectual life of his town, reflecting its pioneering role in the industrial revolution as well as portraying its personalities. Other East Midlands-born or based artists such as Paul Sandby, Peter de Wint, Richard Parkes Bonington, and Henry Dawson each played a role in developing the British landscape tradition, while artists such as William Nicholson and Laura Knight studied here and then moved on while retaining strong links with the region. The East Midlands is studded, mineral-like, with museums and art galleries, some focused on one artist or built around one particular collection or donation, others aim for something more comprehensive, each offer an insight into the rich artistic and cultural heritage of the region.