Thursday, June 12, 2014


Joseph Wright 'of Derby' (British, 1734-97)
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump-1768
Oil on canvas 183 x 244 cm
National Gallery London, Presented by Edward Tyrrell, 1863

A traveling scientist is visiting a family to demonstrate a scientific experiment.  
He is pumping the air out of the flask that contains a bird.
Do you think the bird can survive?
What kind of bird is it? (see the correct answer at the bottom)
Who is worried about the bird?  
Who is paying attention?
Who is in love?
Does the scientist remind you of a wizard who is trying to lure you into the scene?
It was the Age of Enlightenment.  Joseph Wright 'of Derby' was interested in science. He met with a group called the Lunar Society (lunar:relating to the moon).  Sometimes even one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin joined them.  
Do you find it exciting?
Why did the artist paint it at night?
Art detectives:  what do you think is in the glass jar on the table?  
What is the boy by the window doing?
Do you like the candlelight and the moon?  
Who owns the bird?
I don't think we have to worry about the bird. The scientist just wants to demonstrate how the bird needs oxygen.
The bird in the picture has always been called a cockatoo.   However, a nine year old bird lover informed me in no uncertain terms that it's a cockatiel.  
Reason: the cockatoo's crest is at the back of the head and the cockatiels at the front.  A cockatoo would also be too large for the flask.
See more Joseph Wright of Derby's pictures:

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