Oil on Canvas

With original mid-18 th century carved, and pierced giltwood frame

Labelled verso: “Nicholas Hutchinson of Newark, Jack’s great, great-grandfather”

Canvas size:
30 x 25 inches (76×63.5 cm)


By descent in the Hutchinson Family
To Jeremy Hutchinson Q.C., later Lord Hutchinson of Lullington (1915-2017)


Benedict Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby 1968, P.209 No 96

Joseph Wright remains one of the most varied and interesting British artists of the 18th century. Trained in London as a portrait painter under Thomas Hudson, he was always drawn to working in his native Derby and with the exception of a few years away in Liverpool, Italy and Bath, he remained true to his roots. The 1760s saw him develop dramatically from a faithful Hudson student into a fully fledged artist in his own right. Fascinated by light and shade both indoors and out of doors, his work began to encompass more than just portraiture. Lamplit interiors intrigued him as did moonlit landscapes. Similarly he was one of the first artists to see depictions of early industrial processes as suitable subjects for painting. By the end of his life he was highly competent in all these areas. His portrait painting was of an order to rival Reynolds and Gainsborough, his landscapes fore-runners of the romantic movement and his depictions of scientific and industrial processes quite unique. Out of fashion for many years, his work was often only collected by those connected to Derbyshire. But more recently he has emerged rightly as the multi-faceted genius that he was and is in demand by prominent institutions and collectors alike.

Nicholas Hutchinson, the sitter in this present portrait, was a surgeon in the Newark area of Nottinghamshire. He must have prospered, as he seems to have built himself a nice house in Southwell. This is now No 4 Westgate in Southwell - currently a centre for retreats etc. His family, down whose line this picture has come, were almost all physicians, liberal politicians or lawyers. The last owner, the remarkably long-lived Jeremy Hutchinson Q.C. (1915-2017), later Lord Lullington, was indeed a lawyer of some note. Married to the renowned actress Peggy Ashcroft, he successfully defended all kinds of causes celebres as a barrister, including the Lady Chatterley novel, Christine Keeler and even the play Romans in Britain when under attack from Mary Whitehouse. His father - presumably the owner of the picture prior to him - was St John Hutchinson K.C. (1884-1942). Also a barrister, he was known as ‘Jack’ and must therefore be the 'Jack' referred to on the label (see above). As well as his legal work and working as a liberal councillor and would-be MP, he seems to have moved in artistic circles. His wife, Mary Hutchinson, was closely connected to the Bloomsbury circles and is remembered by her 1915 portrait by Vanessa Bell now in the collection of Tate Britain.

Around 1760 Wright was known to have gone to Newark and to have painted a number of sitters in that area. These men and women were drawn typically from the professional and land-owning classes of Nottinghamshire and Hutchinson would have fallen naturally into that group. The date of 1760 would also fit entirely with the style in which Hutchinson is painted. Wright hasn't yet fully developed that remarkable ability to convey the acute sensitivity of a face with his unique use of light and shade, but he has left his early primitive phase behind and there are undeniable hints of considerable ability in the treatment of the costume. Already we note here two hallmarks of Wright’s mature style in portraiture. First, Hutchinson’s buttons are left consciously undone. This gives a sense of the informal and non-uniform to the sitter, adds to the feeling of three-dimensionality and demonstrates the artist’s emerging confidence as a drapery painter. Similarly, the exceptional handling of the braiding on the tricorn hat is a further demonstration of his abilities. Nicolson himself (op cit) also notes Wright’s achievement with this very portrait of conveying a real sense of the weight and bulk of the figure. This is Joseph Wright just on the verge of developing from a competent portrait painter into a very good one indeed.