Thursday, April 2, 2009


An experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768
Joseph Wright of Derby (1737-1797)
Oil on canvas
183 x 244 cm.
National Gallery, London

We got a catalog in today about Darwin, natural science and the visual arts and I started looking for art with connections to science (and started up a bibliography of it for a display at the library :). After a bit of searching, I remembered this wonderful painting by Joseph Wright (and happily remembered his name, though not the title despite its straightforwardness).

While my mind made direct connections to science, science may only serve as a cursory subject base for the painting as a whole. Everyone is watching a man demonstrate the air pump, but Wright's focus is on emotion and mood and style (the pump had been invented in previous century). The nighttime setting enables Wright to use very strong chiaroscuro (light-dark) to create dramatic affect. The people crowded around the demonstration have a wide range of reactions to the spectacle, fascination, horror, boredom, contemplation, all stemming from the same centralized source. This is the most well-known painting of Wright's, inspiring discussion of morality, science and enlightenment. Note that if you link to the image on the nga website you can access some awesome zooming capabilities.

I shared something from the fantastic Transcriptions LFS Shorts collaborative project at the National Gallery, London in a previous post and discovered Transcriptions: Animation this time around (there are also a couple of short films connected to this painting). I can't embed the animation but I highly recommend linking over to the website to see The Poison Tree inspired by Wright's painting. I get very excited when I discover all the wonderful collaborations happening between museums and schools, museums are still often a fantastic world of untapped possibilities, so much innovation still awaits!

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