A picture is worth a thousand words

John Stafford’s Favourite Artist: Joseph Wright of Derby

The Old Sunday School, 2 October 2017 – 6 January 2018

A new exhibition at The Old Sunday School, Macclesfield looks at the stories behind portraits by Joseph Wright of Derby

 Macclesfield Museums recently acquired two eighteenth-century portraits of Macclesfield residents for their collection. Painted by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), they show brother- and sister-in-law John Stafford and Barbara Tatton in all their Georgian finery. The portraits were purchased for Macclesfield Museums with a combination of funding from the Art Fund, Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of Macclesfield Silk Heritage. This new exhibition John Stafford’s Favourite Artist: Joseph Wright of Derby looks deeper into the paintings, revealing the stories behind them.

Joseph Wright of Derby was a commercially successful portraitist, painting many of the country’s leading industrial figures as well as members of the Lunar Society. He is well-known for his innovative depictions of scientific discovery and experimentation, notably An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump and A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery. These celebrated works employ striking contrasts of light and shadow, successfully evoking the spirit of the Enlightenment age. His gift for fine detail is evident in the stunning portraits.

Wright painted John and Barbara around 1770, as well as Stafford’s daughters Lucy and Penelope, and Macclesfield industrialist Charles Roe; Roe’s portrait is on long term loan to Macclesfield Museums from the Churches Conservation Trust, and also features in the exhibition.

John Stafford lived at Cumberland House. He was burgess and town clerk of Macclesfield, and agent to the Earl of Derby; he was in this role when Bonnie Prince Charlie entered the town in 1745, an event he recorded for posterity. Stafford’s son and son-in-law were in the silk mill partnership with Charles Roe.


Barbara Tatton is pictured wearing an outfit of fine silks which the town is famous for. She was born in Macclesfield, the daughter of William Tatton of Wythenshawe Hall. Her sister Lucy married John Stafford, and Barbara was named as a benefactor of his will.

The portraits had been in private collections, but now they are on public display, available for all to see free of charge. Macclesfield Museums are now raising money to have these important paintings cleaned and their frames conserved.

The Old Sunday School is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm – admission is free!

For further details, and to find out how you can join I Support Macc Museums, email Vicky Griffiths events@silkmacclesfield.org.uk

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