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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst


Maker(s):Wright, Joseph (Wright of Derby)
Culture:British (1734 - 1797)
Title:A Cavern, Evening
Date Made:1774
Materials:oil on canvas
Place Made:United Kingdom; England
Measurements:40 x 50 in.; 101.6 x 127 cm
Narrative Inscription:  signed and dated at lower right: J. Wright / 1774
Accession Number:  SC 1950.16
Credit Line:Purchased

Currently on view

landscape; water; mountain; outdoor; night

Label Text:
With A Cavern, Evening, Joseph Wright combines landscape painting with detailed scientific observation. A member of the Lunar Society in his native Derby, Wright was eager to understand the laws governing the physical world, the planets and the stars. This undoubtedly led to his interest in the use of light to affect both the pictorial drama and the meaning of his paintings.

Wright executed this work, along with its companion, A Cavern, Morning (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), at his studio in Rome during his two-year stay in Italy. Both are based on sketches he made while visiting a series of coastal caverns near Naples. In this painting the viewer is positioned as though standing on a ledge inside the dark recess of the cavern, with a vista of brilliant light outside the cave. Wright offers a view through the rocks which line the interior and form the opening to the grotto to the still water and sky outside.

Other label: Stillness and light pervade Joseph Wright’s depiction of a coastal cavern near Naples, Italy. Wright compellingly communicates the experience of being inside the grotto and looking out to the Gulf of Salerno on the Mediterranean Sea. His careful, almost scientific technique articulates the surface of the rocks and the dripping stalactites that have formed over time on the ceiling of the cave. A shimmering evening light reflects on the surface of the water, which is incised with thin, wavy lines that were probably created with the wooden end of a brush. Three small sailboats are just visible through the cavern’s opening.

Wright was based in the English city of Derby, but he spent two years in Italy. He was deeply interested in issues of contemporary science and was known for the dramatic lighting effects he achieved in his paintings.

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