Whilst writing the life story of courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott we have been reviewing the will of Sir John Eliot, her former husband, which shows that apart from leaving money to a variety of illegitimate children he also left the following interesting legacy:
I leave and bequeath to Miss Wright daughter of the late celebrated Mr Wright painter at Pimlico who is herself of no inferior talents an annuity of ten pounds during all the days of her life to be paid to her half yearly the first half years payment to be made to her six months after my death.
As usual we were curious to learn more about this father and daughter and although we have unfortunately still been left no nearer to finding out why Sir John would have left such a bequest, unless it was that he quite simply admired their work, we thought it might be interesting to give some information on the Wright family of painters. Searching around the newspapers of the day revealed the sale by Mr Christie, in April 1787, of all of Sir John’s art collection, after his death.
His furniture and personal effects had already been sold earlier in the year, the entire collection being sold for much more than was initially anticipated in front of a crowded auction room. The Times reported that the auction house was so full that within an hour of opening it was difficult for people to be seen by the auctioneer. It would be interesting to know whether his ex-wife attended!!
Listed in the catalogue of paintings for sale were several paintings by father and daughter – Richard Wright and Miss Elizabeth Wright including this pair by Richard Wright. The listing shows a painting by his daughter ‘A Landscape with Huntsmen and dogs, after Barret‘ which, as yet we have not managed to trace.
These two paintings were listed in the catalogue and are representing a naval battle under the command of a Captain John Eliot, possibly a relative of Sir John’s or maybe simply a namesake?
Richard Wright was baptized 4th April 1723 at St Nicholas church, Liverpool, just one year before his long time friend the artist George Stubbs was also presented there for baptism. Richard went on to marry Louisa and together they had 3 children – Edward who, according to the parish records was born 19th March 1746, but curiously there is also what looks like a corresponding burial for him 23rd September 1752, (so it appears unlikely that this is the same son; perhaps the first son died and a later, second son was given the same name), and two daughters – Nancy born 29th May 1748 and Elizabeth 21st March 1751 both in Liverpool.
Richard initially trained as a house and ship painter with no formal training as an artist but moved to London around 1760 and in 1761 Wright painted several pictures of the storms encountered on the return journey to Harwich of the royal yacht Fubbs that conveyed Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz to England to marry George III. These are now held in the Royal Collection.
The following year Richard had managed to prove his talent and exhibited at ‘The Society of Artists’ where he continued to exhibit until 1773, showing in all 27 works. In 1764 The Society for the Encouragement of Arts held a competition to find the best picture of a sea view – the winner was none other than Richard, who gained 30 guineas for his work.
Tragedy struck the family as according to the St James’s Chronicle dated 29th June 1773 Richards only son Edward had died at their family home in Pimlico aged just 20. Edward was also an acknowledged artist, so much so that at the tender age of 16 he was also known to have been exhibiting work at The Society.
According to The Walpole Society 1917-1918 ‘Sometime before his death, according to Edwards, Wright made an exhibition of his works at York during the race week. The result was disappointing, so much so that according to our chronicler, with the aid of a cold ‘hurried him to his grave.’ He adds that he was adversely affected by the death of his son’.
Richard’s death and burial are proving elusive and sources have his year of death as anywhere between 1773 and 1775. We are assuming that it was 1774 as we have placed one of his daughters at their address in Pimlico in that year. The following year the mother and daughters go their separate ways.
Elizabeth moved to 24 Somerset Street Portman Square, the home of long time friend of her father’s the artist George Stubbs, her mother Louisa to 29 Marsham Street, Westminster, the street where the Snow family lived (parents of Sophia Baddeley).
Quite what happened to the family after 1775 we have no idea as yet, but will provide an update as and when we find anything more. Whatever became of Elizabeth at least we know that she received a small annuity from Sir John Eliot for the remainder of her life.