JOSEPH WRIGHT OF DERBY (DERBY 1734-1797)
Portrait of a lady, traditionally identified as Susannah
Fenton, in a blue and pink dress with a feathered hat, feigned oval
with inscription ‘Miss Fenton Granddaughter to / John Wedgwood Esq of Harracles / Drawn in Yr Year 1755.’ (on an old label on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
29 7/8 x 24 7/8 in. (75.9 x 63.2 cm.)
(probably) B. Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light, London and New York, 1968, I, p. 196.
We are grateful to Brian Allen for confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph.
The label on the reverse identifies the sitter as Susannah Fenton, only daughter of Susannah Wedgwood (b.1699) and John Fenton (1693-1743). Miss Fenton was the granddaughter of John Wedgwood of Harracles (1669-1757), Harracles Hall, Longsdon, Staffordshire. According to the London Chronicle of 16-22 February 1763, Miss Fenton married Captain John Daniell in Litchfield. Daniell was a captain in Colonel Burton’s regiment, an infantry rifle regiment of the British army who fought successfully against the Cherokees in the Anglo-Cherokee war (1758-1761).
The present lot is an excellent example of Wright of Derby’s early portraits. A Miss Fenton is recorded three times in the artist’s account book. Nicholson noted it amongst the early portraits of c.1760. However, the more recent discovery of the portrait of Anne Bateman, which is signed and dated 1755, shed a new light on dating the artist’s early works.
Wright of Derby commenced his training in Thomas Hudson’s studio in 1751 and returned to Derby in 1753, where he settled for a while and painted family and friends. The present lot can be dated to this period. In 1756 he returned to Hudson’s studio to finalise his training. Wright of Derby had close ties with local community and was associated with members of the illustrious Lunar Society, a group of Midlands intellectuals, industrialists and scientists that challenged established beliefs and pioneered in research and innovation. The likes of Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) and Josiah Wedgwood were members of the society and the latter was one of the artist’s most important patrons. Furthermore, Josiah was a distant relative of the sitter’s grandfather.