In Conversation with Ourselves: Wright of Derby’s "Air Pump" as a Modern Moral Subject

Mar. 9, 2022

In this lecture, renowned art historian David Solkin shows how Joseph Wright of Derby constructed conflicting messages out of an eclectic mix of elements drawn from different pictorial traditions in An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump and asks us to consider the artwork's relevance today.

When Air Pump made its public debut in 1768, visitors to the Society of Artists exhibition in London were given the novel opportunity to confront a dramatic glimpse of their own world depicted on the scale of life. Enlightened, affluent, and emphatically contemporary, the genteel company surrounding Wright's scientific lecturer embodied the virtues of sociability and sensibility—qualities that a host of 18th-century commentators proudly hailed as the crowning glories of a modern commercial society. But if the Air Pump held up a flattering mirror to its original audience, it also registered the presence of a dissenting body of opinion, one long-dedicated to highlighting the dangers that the progress of commerce posed to personal and collective morality.

This is the Wark Lecture in Art History.


Recent Videos and Recorded Programs

Coloring the Conservation Conversation
Jun. 7, 2022

Author J. Drew Lanham discusses what it means to embrace the full breadth of his African American heritage and his deep kinship to nature and adoration of birds. The convergence of ornithologist, college professor, poet, author, and conservation activist blend to bring our awareness of the...

A Huntington botanical researcher places a hand on a cycad cone to feel its temperature as part of a study on how weevils pollinate Dioon cycads.
Hdoc: Cycad Sleuths
May. 13, 2022

A gardener noticed a population of weevils living inside a few cycad cones growing on the property and knew it was a big deal. He showed them to one of The Huntington's botanical researchers who kicked off a project this year to study how the weevils pollinate our Dioon cycads.

What is the Value of Historic Libraries? Looking Afresh at the Bridgewater Library, a Jewel in The Huntington Crown
May. 4, 2022

David Pearson, former director of culture, heritage, and libraries for the City of London Corporation, looks afresh at the Bridgewater Library, informed by recent work on 17th-century private libraries more broadly, with a view to teasing out its cultural value today.

This is the Zeidberg...


Search Videos and Recorded Programs