Getty Plans to Acquire Wright’s ‘Two Boys with a Bladder’

Posted in museums by Editor on June 12, 2019

Press release (4 June 2019) from The Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today its intent to acquire Two Boys with a Bladder, about 1769–70, a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, which has not been on public view since the 18th century and was previously unknown to scholars. The Museum also announced the acquisition of Corpus Christi, about 1490–1500, a small-scale wooden sculpture depicting the crucified body of Christ by Veit Stoss.

“These two works of art offer exceptional opportunities to enrich our collections,” said Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The striking depiction of the crucified Christ represents a rare opportunity to acquire a masterwork from the great era of early Renaissance German sculpture. It joins our growing collection of late-Medieval and early-Renaissance sculpture and decorative arts, complementing the manuscripts and paintings collections, to offer a more complete picture of the visual culture of the period.

Two Boys with a Bladder is a masterpiece that counts among Joseph Wright of Derby’s most accomplished nocturnal subjects and reflects the experimental interests of artists and scientists of the Enlightenment,” continued Potts. “Should we obtain the necessary export license from England, the painting will join two other works by the artist at the Getty, adding a completely new and engaging note to our 18th-century paintings collection.”

Corpus Christi

Veit Stoss, Corpus Christi, ca. 1490–1500, wood.

Corpus Christi, about 1490–1500, by Veit Stoss, depicts the crucified body of Christ following the traditional representation of Jesus of Nazareth nailed to a Latin cross at his hands and feet. His head, lowered slightly toward his right shoulder, bears the woven crown of thorns. His right side bears the wound left after Longinus pierced Christ’s chest to ensure he was dead. The body is depicted with astonishing realism, emphasizing the bodily stress and physical pain caused by the crucifixion. The small scale of this Corpus Christi (it is 13 inches tall) and the care with which the details were carved on both the front and back of the figure indicate that it was intended for private devotion, its patron being able to hold it for worship.

One of the most important German sculptors of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Stoss, who was also an engraver and painter, excelled at carving wood and was renowned for his work in that medium. The great Florentine art historian Giorgio Vasari described Stoss’s virtuosity as a “miracle in wood.” In the Getty’s Corpus Christi that skill is evident in highly detailed curls of the hair and beard, elaborate drapery folds, the realistic representation of swollen veins in Christ’s legs and arms, the backbone pressing through the flesh, and the deep wrinkles in his feet.

“This Corpus Christi is a rare and striking work of art from the great era of early Renaissance German sculpture, of which Veit Stoss was a master,” said Anne-Lise Desmas, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the Getty Museum. “It is among a handful of surviving examples of the master’s small-scale figures. Comparable in quality to the monumental crucifixions that Stoss created for churches in Krakow (Poland) and Nuremberg (Germany), this statuette stands out for the compelling power of its realistic rendering of the anatomy of the martyred body and its intensely expressive representation of human suffering.”

Two Boys with a Bladder

Joseph Wright of Derby, Two Boys with a Bladder, ca. 1769–70, oil on canvas.

The acquisition of Two Boys with a Bladder is subject to an export license being granted by the Arts Council of England, which is being applied for on the Getty’s behalf by the seller’s representative, Lowell Libson and Jonny Yarker Ltd., London.

The recently rediscovered painting depicts two young boys, boldly lit by a concealed candle, inflating a pig’s bladder. In the 18th century, animal bladders served as toys, either inflated and tossed like balloons or filled with dried peas and shaken like rattles. While bladders appeared frequently in 17th-century Dutch painting they were depicted less frequently in 18th-century Britain. It was a motif that Wright made his own; the elaborate costumes that the boys wear are of the artist’s own invention, in the style of British ‘fancy pictures’. The dramatic pictorial effect created by the concentrated candle light within a dark interior setting was in vogue in much of Europe in the late 16th and 17th centuries, but it was not until the 18th century that English artists picked up the theme, Wright being among the first to do so.

The previously unpublished masterpiece is Wright’s earliest known treatment of the subject. Unseen in public since the 18th century, the painting forms part of a sequence of dramatic nocturnal paintings that includes The Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768, National Gallery, London) and An Academy by Lamplight (1770, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). It was painted as a pendant to Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight, which is now at Kenwood House in London.

Two Boys with a Bladder is a remarkable discovery that sheds new light on Wright’s work at the most important moment of his career,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “It is a compelling example from his most important and successful genre, candlelight paintings. Moreover, Wright’s innovative experimentation with the use of metal foil embodies a sense of technical and scientific exploration that typifies the intellectual milieu of the midlands on the eve of the industrial revolution. It is a major addition to the Getty’s holdings of art from the English golden age.”

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