Josiah Wedgewood and his friends. They were the most brilliant group in England, and quite possible the most eccentric. Many of them are forgotten today- but some of them changed the world…
…It is characteristic of their dual interests that they thought their industrial and scientific achievements proper subjects for the arts. Nothing expresses better the experimental spirit of these Midland friends than the paintings of Joseph Wright of Derby. His canvases glow with the blast furnaces, the forges and the fiery kilns of the Midland industries. He plundered Pliny to find a subject worthy of Wedgwood’s pottery, and decorated his landscapes with the lighted windows of Arkwright’s factory workers toiling through the night.
Poets, too, were harnessed, to celebrate their achievements in verse. James Watt’s inventions, Boulton’s machines, Wedgwood’s canals, and Arkwright’s factory were all hailed in rhyming couplets. Ponderous, deeply earnest, and redolent with pride in their own achievement, they anticipate the poems and art forms of twentieth-century Russia. Erasmus Darwin, for instance, writing with more good will than effect, dwelt lovingly on the technical processes of Sir Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills:
—First with nice eye emerging Naiads cull
From leathery pods the vegetable wool;
With wiry teeth revolving cards release
The tanged knots, and smooth the ravell’d fleece;
Next moves the iron-band with fingers fine,
Combs the wide card, and forms the eternal line;
Slow, with soft lips, the whirling Can acquires
The tender skeins, and wraps in rising spires;
With quicken’d pace successive rollers move,
And these retain, and those extend the rove;
Then fly the spoles, the rapid axles glow;—
And slowly circumvolves the labouring wheel below.( Darwin, The Botanic Garden )
It was clearly not the ideal atmosphere for poetic inspiration, but that they thought such subjects worthy of their pens illustrates the preoccupation, even of the poets amongst them, with the scientific details of industrial techniques.
The results of this preoccupation made a formidable contribution to scientific progress. It was achieved by empirical methods. They felt with Wedgwood that “Everything yields to experiment,” and when Darwin defined a fool as “a man who never tried an experiment in his life”he could do so without fear of offending his friends.
(see link at end)…As an adult, he was drawn to an impressive circle of friends that included scientists, artists, and industrialists. This combination of influences resulted in dramatic paintings that captured the mood of progress and possibility in Britain in the 18th century.
“He’s considered one of the most important 18th century British painters,” said Elizabeth Barker, director of the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University in New York. Barker is guest curator of the upcoming Wright exhibition in Liverpool and Yale. She has spent years studying the artist, culminating
er doctoral dissertation. Wright may not be as well known as his contemporaries, such as Joshua Reynolds or Thomas Gainsborough, she said, but his work has become more widely appreciated beyond Derby’s borders. “Certainly his star is in the ascendancy,” Barker said. Read More:http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/jom/0706/byko-0706.html