Derby museum acquires Wright self-portrait

May 16 2022

Image of Derby museum acquires Wright self-portrait

Picture: Oliver Taylor/PA, left, Derby Museum curator Lucy Bamford, right, director Tony Butler.

Now this is a lovely story - Derby Museum has acquired a fabulous Joseph Wright of Derby self-portrait, through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The self-portrait was painted in about 1772 and in my opinion shows Wright at his absolute best. The picture represents a two-for-one Wright special offer, because on the back is an equally important study (below) by Wright for his famous painting, Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump (National Gallery, London).

From The Guardian:

The painting was accepted in lieu of inheritance tax, settling a sum of £779,619. Because the work was worth considerably more, Derby Museum and Art Gallery made good the difference of £2.72m with a £2.3m donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, plus additional amounts from the Art Fund, private donors and foundations.

The arts minister Lord Parkinson said: “It is wonderful that this rare self-portrait by Joseph Wright has been saved for the nation and acquired by Derby Museums … where it will take pride of place in the world’s largest collection of his works.”

Tony Butler, the museum’s executive director, said: “The acquisition of this painting is a triumph for Derby Museums. The work has never been in public ownership having remained in private hands since it was executed in a studio not far from where Derby Museum and Art Gallery is now. We feel a palpable sense of bringing Joseph Wright of Derby back home.”

The acquisition is another demonstration of how well the Acceptance in Lieu scheme can work. In this case, the painting was worth more than the amount of inheritance tax to be settled by the government (I can't say how much more, as I advised on the valuation, but a lot more) and Derby Museum was able to fundraise the balance, from the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and others. But the fact that the museum and funders knew the government would in effect be putting down a deposit on the painting gave them time and confidence to embark on raising the extra funds. This is just the latest in an extremely impressive run of acquisitions by Derby Museums, who rarely miss an opportunity to add to their (already outstanding) collection, and are amongst the best in the business at raising funds for new purchases. AHN says, well done to all involved.

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