A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery

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Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery, 1766
By LIBBY ROHR

Glowing and golden, Wright captures the intellectual wonder and intimacy of this lecture with the flourish of light emanating from the center of this work. The subjects are in awe of what lays before them. The philosopher stands proud with authority around his pupils, progressive in the fact that he teaches both men and women. Wright's command of light and shadows is extraordinary. Observe the note-taker and the lifelike depth created by the shadows in his coat and page. The combination of the bright glare that faces the light source and the tapering shadows adds an unmistakably third-dimensional quality. The detail in this work is exceptional as well, particularly in the fabric and on the orrery itself. The cloak of the philosopher possesses remarkable detail, with the beautiful scalloped pattern most visible on the sleeves of the garment. Through the glimmer of the fabric in the low light, we see this pattern accentuated, brought to life through the folds in the coat around the edges.

Notice the color scheme. The students sport soft blues, whites, and beiges: light, open colors showing their trust and willingness to learning. The flush of red in the philosopher's clothes signify the bright passion and confidence as the teacher. Despite the vibrant crimson that would ordinarily stand out among the pastels, the focus of the painting remains the faces of the children in front, lit up in the light of the candle and light of new learning. The glow in the center also draws the students to the orrery itself, connecting them in a circle, a trust, of scholarly spirit. This argues that, rather than knowledge, this painting centers around the curiosity in the eyes of the students and the eagerness to understand. 

The modern era of discovery is evident in this painting, and in keeping this in one's drawing room, it conveys the sophistication and exploration of this generation. Having this work shows any guest that the owner is a part of the respectable pursuit of knowledge and is included in the intimate circles of intelligent men and women forming our progressing society. Every part of this piece shows the advancement in our culture, and the person who owns this work will be a member at the forefront of society, who also has a deep and knowledgeable understanding of what makes artwork great. Joseph Wright of Derby is just starting out, as this is one of his first works of value. It would be quite wise to presently invest in this newcomer, due to his obvious level of skill and merit that will put him at the top of the art world in the years to come. His works convey the message of revelation and exposure that captures the spirit of the time, and will surely prevail in the upcoming decades. 

Editor's Note: The authors were asked to write sales copy for Edme-François Gersaint, the prominent rococo art dealer who offered a printed catalog of available works.


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