Joseph Wright

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Joseph Wright
1734-1797
Portrait of John Stavely
Pen and black ink, over graphite, on laid paper.
21 5/8 x 13 3/4 inches (554 x 349 mm)
Gift of Paul Mellon.
1976.20

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Inscription: 

Inscribed in various hands, in pen and brown ink at upper right, "Nampont", and at lower right, "Nampont / Mr. Wright of Derbys / Sterns Old Man and...[cut off] Ass The Stury"; in graphite at right, possibly in the hand of the artist, "Portrait of / John Stavely / who came from Hert- / fordshire with Mr. French / & sat to Mr. Wright in the character of the old man & his ass in the / Sentimental Journey".
Inscribed on verso in pen and brown ink at lower right, "Mr. Wright of Derby's Study for Sternes Old Man & Ass"; below in a different brown ink, "Joseph Wright / Derby".

Provenance: 
John Leigh Philips; sale, Manchaster, Winstanley and Taylor, 31 October 1814, lot 42 (bought by Magnall [according to Nicolson, bought by Hardman]); sale, London, Christie's, 8 June 1976, lot 10, repr.; Paul Mellon.
Bibliography: 

Ryskamp, Charles, ed. Eighteenth Report to the Fellows of the Pierpont Morgan Library, 1975-1977. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1978, p. 297.
Benedict Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby; Painter of Light, 1968, 247, under no. 241.

Notes: 

Watermark: none.
Study for Wright's unfinished painting "The Old Man and His Ass", from Sterne, present whereabouts unknown.
Wright made this impressive life study in preparation for one of several known paintings based on Laurence Sterne's 1768 novel, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick. In the episode depicted, the protagonist meets an old man weeping at the death of his donkey. Sitter and subject are identified in the inscription: Portrait of / John Stavely / who came from Hert- / fordshire with Mr. French / & sat to Mr. Wright in the character of the old man & his ass in the / Sentimental Journey. -- Exhibition Label, from "Life Lines: Portrait Drawings from Dürer to Picasso."

Associated names: 

Philips, John Leigh, former owner.
Mellon, Paul, former owner.
Sterne, Laurence, 1713-1768. Sentimental journey through France and Italy.

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