Born into a solid middle-class family of Midlands lawyers, Joseph Wright declared at the age of 11 that he wanted to be an artist, writes Jane Norrie. In the face of his parents' opposition he secretly trained himself to draw in the attic until eventually his father conceded and sent him to study in London. His imagination was fired by the scientific advances of the time and Wright produced some of the most original and arresting works in the English tradition.
These include A Philosopher lecturing on the Orrery and An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump. The orrery was a scientific instrument designed to show the workings of the solar system.
On the brink of the Industrial Revolution paintings like these show the wonder that was felt at the new scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment. They also broke new ground in British art introducing dramatic effects of light and shade and inserting new subject matter into the canon of what was considered great art.