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“An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” by Joseph Wright of Derby

An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768

“An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” by Joseph Wright of Derby

“An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” by Joseph Wright of Derby depicts the recreating one of Robert Boyle’s air pump experiments, where a bird is deprived of air, before a group of onlookers. The group exhibits a variety of reactions, but for most of the audience, scientific curiosity overcomes concern for the bird. The central figure looks out of the picture, inviting the viewer’s participation in the experiment. Aside from that of the children, little sympathy is directed towards the bird.

This painting is only one of many candlelit scenes that Wright painted during the 1760s. The picture departed from the conventions of the time by depicting a scientific subject in the respectful way formerly reserved for paintings of historical or religious significance. Wright specialised in representing the Industrial Revolution and the scientific advances of the Enlightenment.

Joseph Wright was an English landscape and portrait painter. He was one of the first painters to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution. Wright is notable for his emphasis on the contrast between light and dark, and, for his paintings of candle-lit subjects. His pictures of the birth of science are a significant record of the struggle of science against religious values in the period known as the Age of Enlightenment.

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

  • Title:             An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
  • Artist:           Joseph Wright of Derby
  • Year:             1768
  • Type:            Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 183 cm × 244 cm (72 in × 94 1⁄2 in)
  • Museum:      National Gallery, London

Joseph Wright of Derby

  • Artist:           Joseph Wright
  • Born:            1734 – Derby
  • Died:            1797 (aged 62) – Derby
  • Nationality:  English
  • Notable works:

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“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

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Photo Credit: 1) Joseph Wright of Derby [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons