Erasmus Darwin portrait bought for Birmingham

A portrait of Enlightenment polymath Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright of Derby has been bought for Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery with help from the Art Fund.

Joseph Wright of Derby, Portrait of Dr Erasmus Darwin, c. 1770 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Joseph Wright of Derby, Portrait of Dr Erasmus Darwin, c. 1770

Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, was a central figure in the 18th-century British Enlightenment. A true polymath, he was a gifted physician, botanist, author, poet and inventor. He was an atheist and an early proponent of evolution, expressing his ideas in his poem The Temple of Nature.

Joseph Wright of Derby was the lead artist of the Enlightenment. While he was best known for his scientific works such as the iconic Experiment with a Bird in an Air Pump, much of his output was portraiture. Darwin sat for Wright of Derby several times throughout his career, including a portrait made when he was in his 60s, which was bought for Derby Museum and Art Gallery with help from the Art Fund. 

The scientist was 40 when he sat for this portrait, which was owned by his elder brother William and remained in the family until sold at auction in 2009. Wright only created two copies of this painting; the other is currently on loan to Darwin College Cambridge from a private collection.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “We are delighted that Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery can add this significant portrait to their collection, so renowned for the quality of its portraiture.”

It was bought with help from a £75,000 Art Fund grant, with additional funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Public Picture Gallery Fund, V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Birmingham Museums Development Trust, Feeney Trust, the Friends of Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, and the Lunar Society.

The painting is currently on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as part of a temporary exhibition.

Venue details

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Chamberlain Square West Midlands B3 3DH 0121 303 1966 www.bmag.org.uk

Entry details

Free with National Art Pass

Mon – Thu, 10am – 5pm
Fri, 10.30am – 5pm
Sat – Sun, 10am – 5pm