The Art Fund kick-starts galleries' appeal to acquire rare portrait with £100,000

  • 2 July 2008

The Art Fund, the UK's leading independent art charity, has kick-started a joint appeal by the National Portrait Gallery and the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston to acquire a rare portrait of British engineer and inventor Sir Richard Arkwright by the 18th century painter Joseph Wright of Derby.

The charity has given a £100,000 grant towards the cost of the painting. To reach the total amount of £420,000 needed to buy the work, the galleries have just three months to raise £200,000 over and above of their own resources.

The compelling portrait of one of the giants of the Industrial Revolution has, until now, been in private hands. Rarely seen in public it has not been exhibited since 1883. The ambition of the National Portrait Gallery and the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, Arkwright’s birthplace, is to jointly acquire the painting which would be shared and displayed by both institutions.

The frank portrait of Arkwright (1732-1792), the first ‘cotton king’ and one of the leading figures of the Industrial Revolution, was painted at the height of his powers in the mid-1780s. It brilliantly captures the engineer, inventor and entrepreneur who was famed for inventing the cotton-spinning frame. He was knighted in 1786, the year after the work was completed.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) is considered one of the most original and important artists working in 18th century Britain. A portraitist, history and landscape painter, he took a keen interest in industrial and scientific developments, and his images of industrialists of the time, are some of the most arresting and telling portraits of the period.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said: “This impressive and evocative painting is a fine example of Joseph Wright of Derby’s fascination with the leading industrial figures of the time. Arkwright, a complex self-made man, was the founding father of the modern factory system and enormously influential. Despite being born in Preston there is currently no portrait of him in the local museum and I’m delighted that this excellent example will now have the opportunity to join both the Harris Museum and National Portrait Gallery’s collections.”


Notes to editors:

1. The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art.
2. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections.
3. Recent achievements include: helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; putting together a unique funding package to ensure Dumfries House in Ayrshire and its contents were secured intact for the nation in July 2007; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK.
4. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit
5. Painting details:
Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-1792)
by Joseph Wright of Derby, ARA (1734-1797)
three-quarter length portrait
oil on canvas, circa 1783--1785
1260 x 1020 (49 5/8 x 40 1/8”)
Inscribed on the reverse by C. M. Hurt, December 1852: ‘His son, Richard Arkwright, and his daughter the late Mrs Charles Hurt always considered this the best portrait of their farther [sic]’.
6. The National Portrait Gallery only has two portraits by Wright: Thomas Day (NPG 2490) and a self-portrait (NPG 4090). The Harris Museum and Art Gallery while renowned for its collection of British art dating from the eighteenth century to the present day currently has no original works by this artist.
7. For further information about the fundraising appeal, please contact Neil Evans, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery. Email: