Derbyshire curators head to the Yale Centre for British Art

 Next week I fly to America to take up a 4 week curatorial fellowship at the Yale Centre for British Art.  This was something that I applied for back in July, when it all seemed a very long way off…

One of the aims of the Enlightenment! project has been to undertake collections mapping and gain a clearer overview of relevant Derbyshire collections in the public domain. This has been an on-going project and included Neil Howe’s ephemera report and the object catalogues that Ruth Litton worked on. My 4 weeks at YCBA will build on their research to give us a better picture of what Derbyshire artworks are out there.

I will also hopefully uncover more information about  Derbyshire; the chronology of its buildings, road infrastructure, water engineering, and evolution of industries. I plan to make myself useful indentifying some of their Derbyshire sketchbook views too.Our engraving of the De Loutherbourg

YCBA have a fantastic collection including several Joseph Wright’s, a couple of Stubbs’s showing Creswell Crags, and theoriginal ‘View near Matlock’ by De Loutherbourg – of which we have an aquatint in our collection. I am most excited about seeing their watercolours from John Webber and William Day’s 1789 tour of Derbyshire. Through the Enlightenment! project we’ve bought 3 pictures from this tour, with a fourth possibly on the cards – watch this space…

I plan to share my findings on the blog and hope that my fellow travel companion, curator and ‘fellowshipee’, Lucy Bamford might do the same. Lucy is the art curator at Derby Museums and her fellowship will focus on the works of Joseph Wright. All very exciting and a tad nerve-wracking, but I am sure we’ll have a fantastic experience.

William Day – View at Cromford, Derbyshire, taken from the Bridge

William Day (1764 – 1807)

View at Cromford, Derbyshire, taken from the Bridge

 After a couple of false starts we have bought this William Day (1764 -1807) watercolour of Cromford. The view is particularly interesting as it shows the view from the bridge with the smelting mills on the left hand side. This is an unusual and rare view as the mills were soon to be demolished to make way for the building of St Mary’s Church – Arkwright’s private chapel.

We know the watercolour was painted in 1789 while William Day was on a tour of Derbyshire. Day was a geologist and self-taught artist who showed work regularly at the Royal Academy as an ‘Honorary Exhibitor’ between 1783 and 1801. He visited the County with his friend and fellow artist John Webber (1751-1793), who was the official artist for Captain Cook’s third voyage.

This purchase adds to the ‘pair’ of Webber and Day watercolours of Castleton that Buxton Museum and Art Gallery bought in 2011.

John Webber and William Day – Views of Castleton

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery have bought two watercolours of Castleton.

The watercolours were painted in 1789 by John Webber and William Day while on a tour of Derbyshire.

John Webber (1751 – 1793) was the official artist for Captain Cook’s third voyage – the voyage in which Cook was killed  in Hawaii. He had also been on various tours around the Continent, Wales and the River Wye, but what is unusual about his Derbyshire trip was that he brought along his friend William Day.


 William Day (1764 – 1807) was a geologist and self-taught artist who showed work regularly at the Royal Academy as an ‘Honorary Exhibitor’ between 1783 and1801. We don’t know much about their friendship but we do know that they often drew the same sights but from slightly different angles and perspectives. Their views of Castleton show Peveril Castle with the village in the foreground.

Castleton would have attracted Day as the village was well known for its important geological specimens. Mawe writing in the preface for his ‘Minerology of Derbyshire’ described Castelton as having ‘such a variety of strata, mines and minerals occur as perhaps no other situation in the kingdom can boast’.

Webber’s watercolour of nearby Oden Mine and Mam Tor are in the collection at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Webber and Day’s paintings are in museum collections across the world. To have the pair however is very unusual and the only other pair in the public domain (apart from ours) are in the Yale Centre for British Art.

Alongside the HLF ‘Collecting Cultures’ grant these two watercolours were bought with the kind assistance from the Art Fund, V&A/MLA Purchase Grant Fund and the Beecroft Foundation. Thank you!

Much of our information about Webber and Day’s Derbyshire tour comes from the ‘Captain Cook’s Painter: John Webber’, catalogue from the 1996 exhibition at the Kunst Museum Bern and the Whitworth Art Gallery. We currently don’t have a copy of this but are trying to get our hands on one. Let us know if you can help!