Joseph Wright of Derby, Mrs James Hardman, 1769, oil on canvas, Judges’ Lodgings, Lancaster. Purchased by Lancashire Museums from the Leger Galleries Ltd with the assistance of the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the National Art Collections Fund, 1996
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) is one of the most important British artists represented in the collections housed at the Judges’ Lodgings Museum in Lancaster. He is also the first great British artist to work almost entirely outside of London. Much of his fame rests on his so-called candlelight pictures which drew international admiration. These include two companion works of the 1760s, The Orrery and The Air Pump (in their abbreviated titles), which depict to great effect scientific experiments carried out by candlelight with a mixed group of captivated children and adults looking on. Wright of Derby’s portraiture is equally accomplished, his style more aligned to realism than to flattery. The portrait of Jane Hardman at the Judges’ Lodgings is a fine example of this work and dates from the years, 1768-1771, which Wright spent in Liverpool painting members of the city’s newly prosperous merchant class. This period was the focus of a major exhibition of his work at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (in conjunction with the Yale Centre for British Art) in 2007.
For more information about the artist, visit the Art UK webpages at artuk.org/discover/artists/wright-of-derby-joseph-17341797
Jane Hardman (or Mrs James Hardman of Rochdale and Allerton Hall), is pictured in fur trimmed coat and lace bonnet and at the time of this portrait was one of the wealthiest women in Lancashire. Allerton Hall in Liverpool had been bought by the brothers John and James Hardman in 1736. James died in 1740, John in 1755, while Jane lived to the grand age of 93. She outlived all her children. On Jane’s death in 1795, Allerton Hall was bought by William Roscoe (1753-1831), a celebrated lawyer, writer and politician who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, William’s father had been a butler at Allerton Hall. One Hardman relative, Grace, who was either John’s daughter or a daughter of John’s cousin, had been disinherited for running off and marrying the coachman, John Hazelhurst. Successive generations of Hazelhurst descendants have pursued claims against the estate.
The manner in which Jane acquired her brother-in-law’s share of Allerton Hall remains unclear and continues to be viewed with suspicion by living descendants. With its intrigues and cast of colourful characters, Jane’s life at Allerton would, in any work of fiction, stretch credulity. The hall itself, in all its Palladian splendour, continues to survive. It was donated to the Corporation of Liverpool in 1922 and is currently home to The Pub in the Park.
Garth Lindrup July 2021
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