- Museum number
- Object: An alchymist
In a dark, vaulted room, an old man wearing a long robe kneeling before a retort, on the left; behind him stand a young man and a boy, room cluttered with books, a globe and various vessels, moon shining through the window on the far left; proof before inscription. 1775
- Production date
Height: 578 millimetres
Width: 452 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from A. Griffiths (ed.), "Landmarks in Print Collecting", exhibition catalogue, 1996:
Wright's paintings are primarily studies of the effect of light and mezzotint was the perfect medium for reproducing his work. Prints after his compositions were among the most successful of the 1770s when mezzotinters moved beyond portraiture to tackle subjects that were seen to have more intellectual significance. Wright's relationship with mezzotinters was a reciprocal one and certain figures in his compositions are based on mezzotints by Pether's master Thomas Frye.
This print reproduces "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" (Derby Art Gallery) exhibited by Wright at the Society of Artists in 1771. Wright focused the composition on the brilliant stream of phosphorus appearing from a hole bored in a glass balloon. He was inspired by Pierre Joseph Macquer's "Elements of the Theory and Practice of Chemistry" (English edition 1758), but sought accurate details of the alchemist's apparatus from his friend, the scientist and printmaker Peter Perez Burdett.
Proofs of the mezzotint originally sold for a guinea each. This example was one of a group of over 1700 prints, chiefly portraits, bought from the dealer William Benoni White in 1868 at a period when British Museum purchases were frequently on such a scale.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1990 Feb-April, London, Tate Gallery, Joseph Wright of Derby
1996 Apr-Jun, Houston, MFA, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1996 Jul-Sep, LA, Huntington, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1996, Oct-Dec, Baltimore, MA, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1997 Jan-Apr, Minneapolis IA, Landmarks in Print Collecting
2014 May-June, G90, Highlights of Mezzotint in Britain
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number