Export of £7m Joseph Wright of Derby painting halted

An Academy by Lamplight Joseph Wright of Derby Image copyright DCMS
Image caption An Academy by Lamplight has an asking price of £7,456,440

The export of an 18th Century "masterpiece" has been temporarily banned in a bid to keep it in the UK.

An Academy by Lamplight, one of the most famous works by Joseph Wright of Derby, is currently held in Somerlyton Hall, near Lowestoft in Suffolk.

One other version of the artwork is held at the Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

The government's export ban will last until 31 July to give buyers a chance to meet the £7,456,440 asking price.

The ban could be extended to 31 January 2019 if the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport receives a "serious intention" to raise the funds.

A government spokesman described the painting as a "masterpiece" and said offers from public bodies for less than the asking price could be considered.

Joseph Wright of Derby

  • Born on 3 September 1734 in Derby, he was the first major English painter to be based outside London
  • Some of his paintings depicted industrial and scientific discoveries and experiments during the Age of Enlightenment
  • He became known as the "painter of light" for his use of chiaroscuro to contrast light and dark
  • An Academy by Lamplight is believed to have been completed around 1769
  • He died in his home town on 29 August 1797

In December last year the painting was sold at auction by Sotheby's for £7.26m, more than double its asking price.

The export ban follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).

Art historian Philippa Glanville said the painting is a "vivid depiction of a drawing class".

"Educating and enlightening young people was a constant theme in Wright's paintings," she said.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis described Wright as "one of the most preeminent painters of the Age of Enlightenment".

He said finding a buyer for the "extraordinary painting" to keep it in the UK will allow it to "be enjoyed by future generations".

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