"The appreciation is definitely not as it should be," says Sue Christian, education officer at the Derby Museums and Art Galleries. "Until a year or two ago, I don't think even the city fathers were proud of him.
"We have done our very best. A lot more people know about him now than did a few months ago."
The bi-centenary of his death in 1797 has generated publicity and a little enthusiasm for the painter, best known for his eerie portrayals of scientific subjects. To mark the anniversary, the Museum and Galleries are holding a major exhibition of Wright's work, including many of his most celebrated paintings.
The pupils at Ashgate junior school in central Derby are more enthusiastic than most. In fact, they have taken the artist to their hearts, says Marsha Ragsdell, special needs teacher and art co-ordinator.
Children are drawn to Wright's paintings with their faintly sinister subjects and realistic style. But he is more than merely entertaining, and offers serious lessons in history and science. The Office for Standards in Education recently praised the school for its work on Wright.
"The children were quite captivated by the history," says Mrs Ragsdell. "Then they got into the personality of the characters and the relationship between them.
"Now they're quite proud that they have a famous artist who comes from their city."
At Derby Museum and Art Gallery until September 28. Ninety-minute sessions can be booked on the theme of The Light of Joseph Wright. Several national curriculum options are available for history, science and geography.