Press release

Wright of Derby masterpiece at risk of leaving the UK

Arts minister steps in to prevent An Academy by Lamplight by Joseph Wright of Derby from export

An Academy by Lamplight by Joseph Wright of Derby

An Academy by Lamplight by Joseph Wright of Derby

Arts Minister Michael Ellis has placed a temporary export bar on An Academy by Lamplight by Joseph Wright to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country.

An Academy by Lamplight is one of the most ambitious and earliest paintings by Joseph Wright and is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £7,456,440.

Joseph Wright (1734 - 1797) was one of the most distinctive and gifted British painters of the eighteenth century. Nicknamed the ‘Painter of Light’ for the candle lit scenes he produced early in his career, Wright was a frequent contributor to the exhibitions of the Society of Artists, and to those of the Royal Academy. Wright’s works record the struggles of the development of science against traditional religious values during the age of enlightenment.

Wright’s works are most famous for his exceptional use of the chiaroscuro effect, which emphasises the contrast of light and dark. An Academy in Lamplight was probably completed in 1769 and is generally considered to be the the first of two versions of this subject. The other version of this work is now held at the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven, USA.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis said:

Wright is one of the most preeminent painters of the Age of Enlightenment. His works help us to better understand the mix of religion and science in this period of huge industrial development. I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this extraordinary painting in the country so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.

The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.

Art Historian and former RCEWA Member Philippa Glanville said:

Educating and enlightening young people was a constant theme in Wright’s paintings; in this vivid depiction of a drawing class, he has captured the varied responses of boys and youths to a female statue, typically bathed in light. Accurate observation and recording was an essential life skill, both for artisans and for privileged children, as these silk-clad youths appear to be. Wright, or his as yet unidentified patron, may have opted for this informal and youthful assemblage, in contrast to the newly formed Royal Academy, with its strict rules and age restrictions.

The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the paintings outstanding significance for the study of art education and its representation of the early history of the Society of Artists of Great Britain. The technical ability of the painter was also noted.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until 31 July 2018. This may be extended until 31 January 2019 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £7,456,440.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Michael Ellis. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.

Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the painting should contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

An image of the painting can be downloaded via our flickr site.


For media information contact: Faye Jackson Communications Officer Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tel: 0207 211 6263 Email:

Notes to editors

  1. Details of the painting are as follows: Joseph Wright of Derby, A.R.A. (Derby, 1734-1797) An Academy by Lamplight oil on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm
  2. Provenance: Probably Sir Francis Crossley, 1st Bt of Halifax (1817–1872), Belle Vue, Halifax, West Yorkshire; probably by inheritance to his widow Martha Eliza Crossley (c. 1821–1891), who, following her husband’s death, moved the contents of Belle Vue to Somerleyton Hall, Lowestoft, Suffolk; by descent to her son, Sir Savile Crossley, 2nd Bt and 1st Lord Somerleyton (1857–1935), at Somerleyton Hall; thence by direct descent.
  3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by The Arts Council, which advises the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.
  4. The Arts Council champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections.
Published 1 May 2018