Joseph Wright of Derby is celebrated today for his dramatic pictures of scientific discovery and experimentation, but in his time he was also known as a highly successful portrait painter.

It was during the years Wright spent in Liverpool (1768-1771) that he is thought to have painted these handsome portraits of Macclesfield residents John Stafford and Barbara Tatton.

Stafford (d. 1779) was burgess and town clerk of Macclesfield and agent to the Earl of Derby. His family were prominent figures in the silk industry and this portrait shows him wearing a colourful jacket and waistcoat, complete with silk-covered Macclesfield buttons.

Barbara Tatton ( 1706-1776) was the sister of Stafford’s wife Lucy. She was born in Macclesfield and Wright depicts her wearing the luxurious fur-trimmed silks for which the town was famous.

Macclesfield’s Silk Heritage Trust runs four museums which tell the story of the town’s silk industry. One of these museums is The Old Sunday School, to which Wright’s portrait of another important figure in the industry, Charles Roe, is currently on long-term loan. Roe built the town’s first silk mill in 1743 and Stafford’s son and son-in-law later became partners in his business.

The likenesses of Stafford and Tatton, which will now be displayed alongside the portrait of Roe, are the first works by Wright to be owned by the museum, as well as the first paintings by an 18th-century artist to enter the collection.


By descent until sold Phillips Auctioneers, London, c.1982; private collection, London, until 2016.

Macclesfield Silk Museum and Paradise Mill

Park Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 6TJ
01625 612045

Opening times

Apr – Nov
Mon – Sat, 10am – 4pm

Nov – Apr
Mon – Sat, 10am – 3pm

Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day and Good Friday.

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