Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Last updated

Derby Museum and Art Gallery
Derby Museum Flowers 2475926344 d64a8a8f6e o.jpg
The 1964 extension to the original building houses the museum and art gallery in 2008
Derbyshire UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Shown in Derbyshire
Established1879 (1879)
LocationThe Strand, Derby, England
Collections Joseph Wright paintings
Owner Derby City Council
(managed by Derby Museums)
Website Official website

Derby Museum and Art Gallery is a museum and art gallery in Derby, England. It was established in 1879, along with Derby Central Library, in a new building designed by Richard Knill Freeman and given to Derby by Michael Thomas Bass. The collection includes a gallery displaying many paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby; there is also a large display of Royal Crown Derby and other porcelain from Derby and the surrounding area. Further displays include archaeology, natural history, geology, military collections and world cultures. The Art Gallery was opened in 1882.



The 1876 building mostly housed Derby Central Library but the dividing line with the newer building varied Derbymuseumlib.jpg
The 1876 building mostly housed Derby Central Library but the dividing line with the newer building varied

The museum can trace its start to the formation of the Derby Town and County Museum and Natural History Society on 10 February 1836. [1] The society was housed by Full Street Public Baths but it was a private society funded by its members' subscriptions. Its collections were created by donations initially from Dr Forrester who had been a President of Derby Philosophical Society. The patron of the Museum Society was William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, and the President was Sir George Crewe who was a keen naturalist. [1] Col. George Gawler contributed a collection of minerals and exotic stuffed birds which included an albatross from his time as governor in South Australia. [2] In 1839 a major exhibition was held at the Mechanics' Institute which contained many items including those from Joseph Strutt's collection. Many of these made their way into Derby Museum's collection. [3] The society moved in 1840 to the Athenaeum in Victoria Street. The society's collections grew in 1856 and they were first offered for incorporation into the town by William Mundy, but the offer was rejected. [1]

In 1857, Llewellyn Jewitt became secretary and the museum was opened to the general public on Saturday mornings. In 1858 the Derby Philosophical Society moved to a house on the Wardwick in Derby as it merged with what was called the Derby Town and County Museum and the Natural History Society. [1] This move included the society's library of 4,000 volumes, mathematical and scientific apparatus and its collection of fossils. [1] In 1863 the botanist Alexander Croall was appointed the first Librarian and Curator and the following year the museum and library were joined together. Croall left in 1875 [1] to become the curator of the Smith Institute in Stirling. [4]

The Derby Town and County Museum was finally transferred into the ownership of Derby Corporation in 1870, but there were difficulties in finding space to display the collections. After placing all the artefacts into storage for three years, the museum was finally opened to the public on 28 June 1879. [1] The Art Gallery opened in 1882 and in 1883 the museum had electricity supplied for new lighting. [5]

In 1936 the museum was given a substantial collection of paintings by Alfred E. Goodey who had been collecting art for 50 years. At his death in 1945 he left £13,000 to build an extension to the museum. The extension, which now houses the museum, was completed in 1964. [3] Refurbishment to parts of both the new and old buildings were undertaken in 2010–11. [6]

In 2012, over 1,000 items were stolen from the museum's storage facility between 2 May and 19 June. The museum did not know about the theft until they accessed the facility to remove an item from storage. Stolen items included coins, medals, and watches. A man was charged with receiving stolen goods in connection with the theft in January 2013. Some of the items stolen were recovered. [7] [8]

Derby and the Enlightenment connection

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1766 Wright of Derby, The Orrery.jpg
A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery , by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1766

Derby was significant in the eighteenth century for its role in the Enlightenment, a period in which science and philosophy challenged the divine right of kings to rule. The enlightenment has many strands, including the largely philosophical "Scottish enlightenment" centred around the philosopher David Hume, and political changes that culminated in the French revolution, but the English Midlands was an area where many key figures of industry and science came together. The Lunar Society included Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, Joseph Priestley and Josiah Wedgwood with Benjamin Franklin corresponding from America. [9] Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, started the Derby Philosophical Society when he moved to Derby in 1783. [10]

Some of the paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby, which are renowned for their use of light and shade, are of Lunar Society members. The Derby Gallery possesses over 300 sketches and 34 oil paintings by Wright, and also holds a document collection. One of the paintings is entitled The Alchymist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone (1771) and it depicts the discovery of the element phosphorus by German alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669. A flask into which a large quantity of urine has been boiled down is seen bursting into light as the phosphorus, which is abundant in urine, ignites spontaneously in air. [11]

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery shows an early mechanism for demonstrating the movement of the planets around the sun. The Scottish scientist, astronomer and lecturer James Ferguson undertook a series of lectures in Derby in July 1762. [12] They were based on his book Lectures on Select Subjects in Mechanics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Optics &c., published in 1760. In order to illustrate his lectures he used various machines, models and instruments. Wright possibly attended Ferguson's lecture, especially as tickets for the event were available from John Whitehurst, his close neighbour, the clockmaker and scientist. The artist could also have drawn on Whitehurst's practical knowledge to find out more about the orrery and its operation. [13]

Significance of Joseph Wright's paintings

The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone, by Joseph Wright, 1771 Joseph Wright of Derby The Alchemist.jpg
The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone , by Joseph Wright, 1771

These factual paintings are considered to have metaphorical meaning too, the bursting into light of the phosphorus in front of a praying figure signifying the problematic transition from faith to scientific understanding and enlightenment, and the various expressions on the figures around the bird in the airpump indicating concern over the possible inhumanity of the coming age of science. [12] These paintings represent a high point in scientific enquiry which began the undermining of the power of religion in Western societies. Some ten years later scientists worldwide would find themselves persecuted, or even put to death in the backlash to the French Revolution of 1789, itself the culmination of enlightenment thinking. Joseph Priestley, member of the Lunar Society and discoverer of oxygen would flee Britain after his laboratory in Birmingham was smashed and his house burned down in the Birmingham riots of 1791, by a mob objecting to his outspoken support for the French Revolution; [14] and his colleague Lavoisier in France would be executed at the guillotine. The politician and philosopher Edmund Burke, in his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), tied natural philosophers, and specifically Priestley, to the French Revolution, writing that radicals who supported science in Britain "considered man in their experiments no more than they do mice in an air pump". In the light of this comment, Wright's painting of the bird in the air pump, completed over twenty years earlier, seems particularly prescient. [12]

Because of this web of connections related to science, and the tensions it created which were so subtly illustrated by the art of the painter Joseph Wright of Derby, Derby Museum and Art Gallery, far from being just a collection of fine paintings as the casual visitor might imagine, is significant for being in a place that some would see as having a very significant role in the birth of modern science and industry worldwide. Birmingham, with its science and industry, has been described as the 'silicon valley' of the eighteenth century. [15]

Erasmus Darwin has only a small display. Herbert Spencer, friend of Charles Darwin and originator of the phase "the survival of the fittest", who was born in Derby and has been described as the founder of sociology, does not appear to be mentioned at all. [16]

Wright of Derby

In 2011, Derby City Council announced that it was to use Joseph Wright of Derby to brand the city of Derby. At the same time, the Museum announced that it was "joining forces" with Wikipedia to improve the quality of its information. [17] [18] In February 2011 the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) announced that it had awarded Designated status to Derby Museum and Art Gallery for its nationally significant holdings of paintings and drawings by Joseph Wright. [19]

Bonnie Prince Charlie Room

Bonnie Prince Charlie room today Bonnie Prince Charlie in Exeter House Room.jpg
Bonnie Prince Charlie room today

The museum houses a replica of the room in Derby where Bonnie Prince Charlie held his council of war in 1745, while on his way south to seize the British crown. The paneling is from the original Exeter House, which was demolished in 1854. At the time of demolition, the panels were brought to the museum, which then received related objects as donations. Queen Victoria provided an original letter of Bonnie Prince Charlie from her own collection. [20]

Other artists

Besides the Wright collection there are also works by Benjamin West, E. E. Clark, Robert Priseman, Harold Gresley, Alfred John Keene, Georg Holtzendorff, David Payne, George and William Lakin Turner, Ernest Townsend, Samuel and Louise Rayner. [3]

Soldier’s Story gallery

The Soldier's Story gallery [21] is dedicated to the history of the 9th/12th Royal Lancers, the Sherwood Foresters and the Derbyshire Yeomanry. [22]


The mounted figure on the Repton Stone in the museum has been identified as King AEthelbald of Mercia The Repton Stone- detail.JPG
The mounted figure on the Repton Stone in the museum has been identified as King Æthelbald of Mercia

A fragment of a cross shaft from Repton includes on one face a carved image of a mounted man which, it has been suggested, may be a memorial to Æthelbald of Mercia. The figure is of a man wearing mail armour and brandishing a sword and shield, with a diadem around his head. In 757, Æthelbald was killed at Seckington, Warwickshire, near the royal seat of Tamworth and buried at Repton, Derbyshire. If this is Æthelbald, it would make it the earliest large-scale pictorial representation of an English monarch. [23] [24]

The museum has a large collection of items from the Bretby Art Pottery. [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

Erasmus Darwin English physician (1731-1802)

Erasmus Robert Darwin was an English physician. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade abolitionist, inventor, and poet.

Lunar Society of Birmingham

The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a British dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham. At first called the Lunar Circle, "Lunar Society" became the formal name by 1775. The name arose because the society would meet during the full moon, as the extra light made the journey home easier and safer in the absence of street lighting. The members cheerfully referred to themselves as "lunaticks", a pun on lunatics. Venues included Erasmus Darwin's home in Lichfield, Matthew Boulton's home, Soho House, Bowbridge House in Derbyshire, and Great Barr Hall.

Joseph Wright of Derby 18th-century English painter

Joseph Wright, styled Joseph Wright of Derby, was an English landscape and portrait painter. He has been acclaimed as "the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution".

John Whitehurst

John Whitehurst FRS, born in Cheshire, England, was a clockmaker and scientist, and made significant early contributions to geology. He was an influential member of the Lunar Society.

<i>An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump</i> 1768 oil-on-canvas painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump is a 1768 oil-on-canvas painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, one of a number of candlelit scenes that Wright painted during the 1760s. The painting departed from convention of the time by depicting a scientific subject in the reverential manner formerly reserved for scenes of historical or religious significance. Wright was intimately involved in depicting the Industrial Revolution and the scientific advances of the Enlightenment. While his paintings were recognized as exceptional by his contemporaries, his provincial status and choice of subjects meant the style was never widely imitated. The picture has been owned by the National Gallery in London since 1863 and is regarded as a masterpiece of British art.

<i>A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery</i> 1766 painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, or the full title, A Philosopher giving that Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun, is a 1766 painting by Joseph Wright of Derby depicting a lecturer giving a demonstration of an orrery – a mechanical model of the solar system – to a small audience. It is now in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery The painting preceded his similar An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump.

Peter Perez Burdett

Peter Perez Burdett was an 18th-century cartographer, surveyor, artist, and draughtsman originally from Eastwood in Essex where he inherited a small estate and chose the name Perez from the birth surname of his mather, his maternal grandfather was the clergyman there. He would have been notable just for his many appearances in Joseph Wright's pictures but he was also involved with numerous projects including surveying the route for one of the major projects of the industrial revolution, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, in 1769. He has been described as "if not in the centre at least in the penumbra of the Lunar Society of Birmingham". He spent the last years of his life in Karlsruhe, avoiding debtors, but still active in German society. His German daughter married a Count.

Sir Brooke Boothby, 6th Baronet

Sir Brooke Boothby, 6th Baronet was a linguist, translator, poet and landowner, based in Derbyshire, England. He was part of the intellectual and literary circle of Lichfield, which included Anna Seward and Erasmus Darwin. In 1766 he welcomed the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Ashbourne circles, after Rousseau's short stay in London with Hume. Ten years later, in 1776, Boothby visited Rousseau in Paris, and was given the manuscript of the first part of Rousseau's three-part autobiographic Confessions. Boothby translated the manuscript and published it in Lichfield in 1780 after the author's death, and donated the document to the British Library in 1781.

Derby Philosophical Society

The Derby Philosophical Society was a club for gentlemen in Derby founded in 1783 by Erasmus Darwin. The club had many notable members and also offered the first institutional library in Derby that was available to some section of the public.

Midlands Enlightenment

The Midlands Enlightenment, also known as the West Midlands Enlightenment or the Birmingham Enlightenment, was a scientific, economic, political, cultural and legal manifestation of the Age of Enlightenment that developed in Birmingham and the wider English Midlands during the second half of the eighteenth century.

<i>Romeo and Juliet: the Tomb Scene</i> 1790 painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

Romeo and Juliet: the Tomb Scene is a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, completed by 1790, exhibited in 1790 and 1791, shown in the Derby Exhibition of 1839 in the Mechanics' Institute, and now displayed in Derby Museum and Art Gallery. The painting exhibits Wright's famed skill with nocturnal and candlelit scenes. It depicts the moment in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet when Juliet, kneeling beside Romeo's body, hears a footstep and draws a dagger to kill herself. The line is "Yea, noise? Then I'll be brief. O happy dagger!"

Alfred E. Goodey English art collector

Alfred E. Goodey (1878–1945) was a collector of paintings, prints and photographs, especially those connected with the English Midlands town of Derby.

<i>The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus</i> Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus is a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby originally completed in 1771 then reworked in 1795. The full title of the painting is The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher's Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers. It has been suggested that The Alchymist refers to the discovery of phosphorus by the Hamburg alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669. This story was often printed in popular chemical books in Wright's lifetime, and was widely known.

<i>The Blacksmiths Shop</i> Paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby

The Blacksmith's Shop is a recurring theme of five paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby. The version in his home town was originally completed in 1771.

<i>The Earthstopper</i> Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

Earthstopper on the Banks of the Derwent is a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby originally completed in 1773. The scene shows a man digging at nighttime beside the River Derwent in Derbyshire.

<i>A Philosopher by Lamplight</i> Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

A Philosopher by lamplight is a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby. It is not known when Wright painted the picture, but it was first exhibited in 1769 in London with the Society of Artists. This was one of the earliest of many lamplight or candlelight paintings and portraits for which Wright is famed.

<i>Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight</i> Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight is a 1765 painting by Joseph Wright of Derby and now resides in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool [United Kingdom]. It depicts three men examining a reproduction of the Borghese Gladiator, a famous Hellenistic statue discovered in Italy. The painting was one of the first in Wright of Derby's "Candlelight Pictures" series and was originally exhibited in London, gaining much attention. Four years later a mezzotint of it was made by William Pether.

<i>Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno</i> Paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby (1774)

Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno is the subject of at least four paintings completed by Joseph Wright of Derby following his visit there in 1774. The paintings show the different lighting at different times of the day.

St Wystans Church, Repton Church in United Kingdom

St Wystan's Church is a Church of England parish church in Repton, Derbyshire that is famous for its Anglo-Saxon crypt which is the burial place of two Mercian kings. The church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building, and is dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon Saint Wystan, who was formerly buried within the church's crypt.

<i>Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight</i> Painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight is a "fancy painting" by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797). The painting is displayed at the Kenwood House Public Museum, located in the London Hampstead area.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Newsletter of the Geological Curators Club Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine , Vol 1, No. 8, 1976. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  2. Glover, Stephen (1829). The history and directory of the borough of Derby, a guide p.430.
  3. 1 2 3 Allard, Sarah; Nicola Rippon (2003). Goodey's Derby. Breedon Books. p. 157. ISBN   1-85983-379-9.
  4. Old Town Cemetery, Stirling, accessed February 2011
  5. "Derby Museum and Art Gallery: Home to a fascinating range of nationally important collections". Derbyshire Gazette. 28 March 2018. Archived from the original on 22 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  6. "Closure could be small step back for a giant leap forward. The building was closed on 18 October so asbestos could be removed and other refurbishment work started. A lighting upgrade and installation of a disabled lift will continue, with completion expected in March 2011". Evening Telegraph. 19 October 2010.
  7. "Derby museum theft: Police arrest two men". BBC. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  8. "Derby museum theft: Man charged". BBC. 16 January 2013. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  9. Lunar Archived 7 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine ,
  10. Albert Edward Musson, Eric Robinson (1969). Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution. Manchester University Press. pp. 162–163. ISBN   0-7190-0370-9.
  11. Vertesi, Janet. "Light and Enlightenment in Joseph Wright of Derby's The Alchymist". ReoCities. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  12. 1 2 3 "". Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  13. Nicolson, Benedict, Joseph Wright of Derby: painter of light, Taylor & Francis, 1968, ISBN   0-7100-6284-2
  14. Schofield, Robert E. (2004), The enlightened Joseph Priestley: a study of his life and work from 1773 to 1804, Penn State Press, p. 151, ISBN   978-0-271-02459-2
  15. Herman, Arthur (7 September 2002). "BOOKS: The outsiders who made the future by moonlight". The Scotsman. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  16. "Famous Derbyshire People: Herbert Spencer 1820–1903". Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  17. Green, Kirsty (15 January 2011). "City curators unveil hidden treasures to website Wikipedia". Derby Telegraph.
  18. "Derby Museums and Wikipedia Join Forces to Improve Content". 20 January 2011. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2011.
  19. Archived 21 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  20. "Architecture treasure - Exeter House Panelling". Derby Museum and Art Gallery. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011.
  21. "Soldiers Story Gallery". Derby Museums. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  22. Hawley, Zena (11 August 2015). "Soldiers' Story gallery celebrates Derby's 300-year link with the Lancers". Derby Telegraph. Archived from the original on 25 December 2015. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  23. Biddle, Martin (1985). "The Repton Stone". Anglo-Saxon England . 14: 233–292. doi:10.1017/S0263675100001368 . Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  24. Lapidge, Michael (1999). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Blackwell Publishing. p. 392. ISBN   0-631-22492-0.
  25. Paling, Melanie (1987). Art Pottery, Accepting the Inevitable.

Coordinates: 52°55′20″N1°28′46″W / 52.92225°N 1.4795°W / 52.92225; -1.4795