Print of Experiment on a Bird in the Airpump

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In 1768, a young English artist named Joseph Wright displayed a large oil painting showing what happens to a bird (in this case a cockatoo) when deprived of air. Demonstrations of this sort were somewhat popular scientific entertainments during the second half of the 18th century. And, as Wright showed in this picture, they could evoke horror as well as fascination. Mezzotint copies of Wright’s painting were soon available. This is one of those copies. The text at the bottom reads: “From the Original Picture Painted by Mr. Joseph Wright” and “Published June 24th 1708” and “Joseph Wright Pinxit” and “J. Boydell excudit 1769” and “Valentine Green del & fecit.”
Ref: Marguerite Helmers, “Painting as Rhetorical Performance: Joseph Wright’s “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump,” JAC 71 (2001): 71-95.
David Fraser, “Joseph Wright of Derby and the Lunar Society,” in Judy Edgerton, ed., Wright of Derby (London: Tate Gallery, 1990).
T. Clayton, The English Print (New Haven and London, 1997).
Currently not on view
date made
original artist
Wright, Joseph
place made
United Kingdom: England, London
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 71.1 cm x 80.8 cm x 2.7 cm; 28 in x 31 13/16 in x 1 1/16 in
overall: 28 in x 31 1/2 in x 1 in; 71.12 cm x 80.01 cm x 2.54 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
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Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Science & Mathematics
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History