Galleries join forces to buy portrait of cotton king

LONDON. The National Portrait Gallery in London (NPG) and the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston are trying to raise £420,000 to jointly buy a newly-discovered Wright of Derby portrait of cotton manufacturer Sir Richard Arkwright.

The portrait has until now belonged to a direct descendant of Arkwright, who died in 1792. It was last exhibited in 1883 and is reproduced here for the first time. It is being sold by London dealer Philip Mould.

Dating from around 1785, the picture was commissioned by Arkwright’s daughter, Susannah Hurt. At the time other cotton manufacturers were trying to break Arkwright’s patents on a water-powered spinning frame, which was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Arkwright aggressively protected his rights, thereby becoming extremely wealthy.

On the back of the portrait there is an 1852 inscription saying that Susannah always considered it “the best portrait” of her father. Although Wright of Derby made a second portrait, NPG director Sandy Nairne describes the daughter’s picture as “far more psychologically nuanced and incisive”.

The painting would be shared between the NPG and the gallery in Preston, Sir Richard Arkwright’s birthplace, spending five to ten years in each venue. The Art Fund awarded a grant of £100,000 on 5 June and an application for the same sum will be considered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund in September. The Preston gallery is pledging £50,000, and the Hedley Trust is being approached for £15,000, which would leave the NPG to find the remaining £155,000.

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