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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Treat for the Eyes: Unusual Painting of Forge at Night Exhibited at Yale

If you are anywhere near New Haven, Connecticut between now and Sunday, get yourself to the Center for British Art at Yale University. Inside that modern cubist block of a structure you will find this very romantic painting, "A Blacksmith Shop" by the British artist Joseph Wright of Derby, painted in 1771.

I am sorry that I didn't know sooner that the painting was going to be in the United States. It was only there briefly, and is now headed back to its home at the Walker Art Gallery of the Liverpool Museum in Liverpool, England.

If you double-click on the image I have embedded, you can see some of the fantastic detail enlarged.

Wright specialized in portrait painting but had a "thing" for painting scenes lit by candlelight or, in this case, forge light. I have admired this painting for years and would have loved to see it in person. He was a pioneer, as painters rarely sought out places like mines and blacksmith shops to paint. I imagine him painting lovely portraits of totally boring aristocrats by day, and sneaking out to paint his candlelit scenes at night.

The story of the painting is that the farriers were called out at night to shoe a traveling family's horse that needed to keep going. The painting catches the welding moment; the boy by the anvil is hiding his face from the sparks. The well-dressed fellow in the foreground is leaning on a hammer. What do you think those lads in the back with the candle are up to? The forge appears to be in the ruins of a church or something; note that the night sky can be seen through a giant rip in the wall above the hanging horseshoes. Obviously, there is a lot of mystery in this painting.

Wright put layers of gold leaf between the layers of paint to try to simulate the glimmering light cast by the hot shoe on the anvil.

Thanks to our old friend Tim Helck, formerly of Summit Tech farrier supplies in New Jersey and now with the New York Times, for bringing the exhibit to my attention. The painting appeared on the paper's web site last week to promote the exhibit.

If you're in Connecticut this week, the Yale Center for British Art is at 1080 Chapel Street, New Haven; (203) 432-2800,

And if you are in Liverpool, your beautiful painting will be home soon!

Thanks for not stealing this scan as it was very generously loaned by the National Museums, which was very kind of them.

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Anonymous said...

whatever happened to Summit Tech did they go out of bizness?

Fran Jurga said...

Yes, they did. Tim now works for the New York Times and I hear through him that Jerry is enjoying his retirement, no doubt surrounded by fabulous cars!