Art in Context | Joseph Wright of Derby’s “The Blacksmith’s Shop”


May 9, 2023

About this program

The Blacksmith’s Shop, in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, is the earliest and most ambitious of the five paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797) that depict iron forges being worked at night. Though long recognized as one of his most intriguing works, it has proved remarkably difficult to interpret, with the leading Wright scholars advancing notably divergent views of its meaning and purposes. This talk seeks to show that, to really engage with the painting on its own terms, we need to acknowledge that Wright and his contemporaries operated with a very different understanding of the nature and purposes of “art” from our own. When we take this into account, we can develop a new approach that promises to shed fresh light not only on Wright’s painting and its place in his wider oeuvre, but also on the very nature of artistic practice at the dawn of the modern age.

About Lucinda Lax

Lucinda Lax joined the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) as Curator of Paintings and Sculpture in January 2023. She brings extensive experience from the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), where she was Senior Curator, Portraiture (1700–1800). At NGS, Lax undertook innovative redisplays of the gallery’s historic collections, including two permanent-collection exhibitions, Scots in Italy: Artists and Adventurers (2016) and The Remaking of Scotland: Nation, Migration, Globalisation, 1760–1860 (2018). The latter was widely recognized for introducing critical debates about colonialism and Scotland’s role in the transatlantic slave trade to the NGS’s displays. She also oversaw the acquisition of major portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn, Allan Ramsay, and Antonio Zucchi. In her role at the YCBA, Lax will oversee the reinstallation of the museum’s outstanding collection of British art, which will be represented in new displays on the fourth floor and in spaces throughout the building, in time for the museum’s reopening in 2024. She is also preparing a major exhibition on the work of J. M. W. Turner to coincide with the 250th anniversary of his birth in 2025. 

Lax holds a PhD from the University of York, where she wrote her thesis on the eighteenth-century British portrait and genre painter Edward Penny. She has published and lectured on subjects including Jacobite iconography, Henry Raeburn, Allan Ramsay, and Antonio Zucchi.