Grotto by the Seaside in the Kingdom of Naples with Banditti, Sunset

Joseph Wright of Derby (English, 1734–1797)


121.9 x 172.7 cm (48 x 68 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery (Gallery 246)





Wright was an inventive and talented artist who painted portraits, landscapes, and unusual images of contemporary life. He spent most of his career in his native Derby in England, but a trip to Italy in 1773–75 provided much material for his art. He witnessed an eruption of Mount Vesuvius and sketched the grottoes off the coast of Salerno, near Naples; both subjects became favorites for his later work. A group of melancholy bandits adds a picturesque note to this composition, one of Wright’s most important grotto paintings. With its hazy atmosphere and soft, golden light, the landscape is at once poetic and realistic.


1780, sold by the artist to Josiah Cockshutt (b. 1737 - d. 1801), Chaddesden, Derbyshire [see note 1]; by descent from Cockshutt to his grandson, Cockshutt Heathcote (b. 1793 - d. 1885), Derbyshire; 1840, from Heathcote to Godfrey Meynell, Meynell Langley, Derbyshire [see note 2]; until 1986, by descent within the Meynell family; July 9, 1986, anonymous (Meynell) sale, Sotheby's, London, lot 82, to Thomas Agnew and Sons, Ltd.; 1990, sold by Agnew to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 28, 1990)

[1] See Benedict Nicolson, "Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light" (New Haven and London, 1968), vol. 1, cat. no. 277. Wright sent Cockshutt a bill on August 29, 1780, for this painting and two others, "A Cavern with the Figure of Julia," and "Virgil's Tomb."

[2] The painting was accepted in lieu of payment for a debt owed to Meynell; see Nicolson (as above, n. 1) and Judy Egerton, "Wright of Derby" (exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 1990), p. 162, cat. no. 99.

Credit Line

Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund and other Funds, by exchange