Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97)
In many ways Edward Abney may be regarded as typical of Wright’s sitters. He was from a landowning family but not one established on their estates above a generation…
Edward Abney was the son of William Abney, a barrister of Inner Temple, who purchased the estate of Measham in Derbyshire and built a house there. His elder son Robert died leaving a daughter as his heir, but his younger brother Edward, the sitter in this portrait, helped to establish a dynasty that continued to own Measham Hall into the twentieth century.
Wright's account book records not only this portrait of Edward Abney but also one of his wife, Hepzibah Need of Nottingham, and of their three children. Neither of these latter portraits has come to light recently. In many ways Edward Abney may be regarded as typical of Wright's sitters. He was from a landowning family but not one established on their estates above a generation and allied more closely with the industrious and professional middle class than with the aristocracy. The area in which he lived had been primarily agricultural when the Abneys first established themselves at Measham, but by the end of the century - chiefly under the influence of Joseph Wilkes - it had become known for coal-mining, brickworking and many of the heavy industries whose eighteenth-century form has been forever fixed for us in the paintings of Joseph Wright.