Exhibits Explore Artist’s Liverpool Years, British Watercolors

Two new exhibits — one examining the creative development of Joseph Wright of Derby while the artist was in Liverpool, the other highlighting the diversity of British watercolor painting — will open in coming weeks at the Yale Center for British Art. 

Wright in Liverpool

“Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool,” which opens on May 22, is the first major exhibition to examine the artist’s development in that city at the start of its cultural renaissance and growing status as a major world port.

Wright, considered one of the most significant British artists of the 18th century, was prized by his contemporaries for the originality of his “candlelight” paintings, as well as for his portraits. From 1768 to 1771 he lived and worked in Liverpool, then Britain’s fastest-growing port and a burgeoning cultural and economic center. Wright’s success in Liverpool made him the first renowned British artist to establish a career outside of London.

The Yale Center for British Art is the only U.S. venue for the exhibition, which features approximately 80 works, including more than 40 paintings and drawings by Wright, as well as works by his circle of friends and students in Liverpool. It also provides a look at the city during a period of economic expansion and political change.

Among the items on view in “Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool” are the artist’s account book, which lists many of the paintings he produced; a portrait of Richard Gildart, a former Liverpool mayor, merchant and slave trader; and his paintings of groups of people by candlelight.

The exhibition, which will remain on view through Aug. 31, was co-organized by the Yale Center for British Art and the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool. It was curated by Elizabeth E. Barker, director and chief curator of the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, and Alex Kidson, curator of British art at the Walker Art Gallery. The organizing curator for the Yale Center for British Art is Julia Marciari-Alexander, associate director for exhibitions and publications.

The exhibition coincides with a two-year celebration of Liverpool’s cultural heritage, the 800th anniversary of its charter in 2007; and its status as European Capital of Culture in 2008. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

Special events in connection with the exhibit include an opening lecture on “Joseph Wright and Provincial Cosmopolitanism” by John Brewer, the Eli and Edye Broad Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, on Wednesday, May 21, 5:30 p.m.; an “Art in Context” talk by Marciari-Alexander on Tuesday, June 17, at 12:30 p.m.; and a film series on “Music and the Arts in Liverpool,” beginning on Sunday, June 15, at 2 p.m., which will explore The Beatles and the Liverpool music scene.

British watercolors

“Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection” spans more than a century of British artistic production, from the emergence of watercolor painting in the mid-18th century to its flowering in the early 19th century.

The exhibit, which runs June 10-Aug. 17, brings together more than 80 works from the Paul Mellon Collection, showing both landscapes and figurative works by some of the principal artists who worked in the medium. Among these are Thomas Gainsborough, Paul Sandby, John Robert Cozens, William Blake, Thomas Girtin, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.

In a period of little over 15 years, beginning in the early 1960s, Paul Mellon assembled one of the world’s greatest collections of British drawings and watercolors. As part of his extensive collecting, he purchased several private collections of British watercolors. His collecting helped to revive the study of British watercolors.

“Great British Watercolors” was organized for the Yale Center for British Art in association with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, as part of the 2007 celebrations commemorating both the center’s 30th anniversary and the centenary of its founder, Paul Mellon. Through his gift of his collection to Yale, the center houses more than 50,000 drawings, watercolors and prints — the largest and most representative collection of British art on paper outside the United Kingdom.

The exhibition is curated by Scott Wilcox, curator of prints and drawings at the Yale Center for British Art; Mitchell Merling, the Paul Mellon Curator and head of the Department of European Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; and Matthew Hargraves, postdoctoral research associate at the center. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Wilcox will give a lecture on Wednesday, May 28, titled “Like a Cremona Violin: The Appreciation of Technique in British Watercolors.”

For information on other events in conjunction with the exhibits, visit the center’s website at www.yale.edu/ycba.

The Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St., is open to the public free of charge Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and major holidays. For further information, call (203) 432-2800.

To call toll free in the United States: (877) 274-8278.

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