Birmingham acquires Erasmus Darwin portrait

September 27 2013

Image of Birmingham acquires Erasmus Darwin portrait

Picture: Philip  Mould & Co.

Congratulations to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for raising £275,000 to acquire Joseph Wright of Derby's portrait of Erasmus Darwin (above). The portrait was bought, with help from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lotter Fund, from, er, us here at Philip Mould & Co. Birmingham's website says:

The portrait belonged to Erasmus’ elder brother, William Alvey Darwin (1726 – 83), of Elston Hall, Notts, and remained in the family until sold at auction in 2009.  It was one of only two copies done by Wright of this particular portrait. The other copy survives and is now on loan to Darwin College Cambridge. 

Darwin was 40 years old when the portrait was painted around 1770, and Wright brilliantly captures his intellect, charisma and good humour through his skilful brushwork and trademark use of contrasting light and shadow. 

Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802) was a key figure in the history of the British Enlightenment. He was a gifted physician, botanist, author, poet and inventor, and a founder member of the famous Lunar Society of Birmingham with Matthew Boulton. Although not as well known today as his grandson Charles, Erasmus is credited with many of the ideas that led to Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) is perhaps the artist most closely associated with the Enlightenment and the early Industrial Revolution. Best known for his dramatic scientific subject works like the iconic Experiment with a Bird in an Air Pump, much of his output was portraiture.  

 Chris Rice, Head of Heritage Services at Birmingham Museums Trust commented: “This is a hugely important acquisition for Birmingham Museums. Once again we are extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their generous grant which means the portrait can be enjoyed by everyone in the region for generations to come.”

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