Why Joseph Wright's legacy may be worth more than we realise
SO, £53,000 worth of art has "disappeared" from the city council's vaults and it took six weeks for anyone to notice, writes Neil White.
Mind you, the city's collection was, at the last valuation, worth £64 million, so the 1,100 items taken will probably not be missed much.
Seriously, last week's revelation again poses the question of whether the council should be the guardian of an art collection at all.
It will not be lost on many of the city electorate that, at a time when drastic cuts are being made to services in Derby, it is rather ironic that the city's artifacts are rocketing in value.
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Indeed, this paper reported in June that its collection had risen in value by a staggering £25 million in the previous year.
This is largely down to the increase in popularity of Joseph Wright.
Wright continues to stir emotions in Derby.
Some will say that they are proud that the city has an impressive collection of his works and that they should never be sold.
Some will argue that, in a time of austerity, the city has an opportunity of propping up the public purse by selling or leasing his work.
To my mind, there are only two choices. Either, we make the very most of Wright in the way that Stratford-upon-Avon does with its hometown boy, William Shakespeare, or we cash in.
In Stratford, there is scarcely a shop in which Shakespeare's influence cannot be seen.
And after a night at the theatre, watching the Royal Shakespeare Company, tourists can even visit the childhood home of his wife, Anne Hathaway.
There are open-top buses, town trails and endless souvenirs which back up the offering for visitors.
If Joseph Wright is so important in the world of art and his collection guarded so passionately, why is he not represented in a similar way here?
I would venture that anyone walking through Derby city centre would probably not see one single reference to him.
As someone who only came to Derby six years ago, I have to say I previously had no idea that he hailed from these parts.
It is true that the new Joseph Wright museum has been a step in the right direction but that is all it is – a single step.
Sadly, as we currently stand, much of Wright's work is not on display and we can only be thankful that it wasn't part of the recent stolen haul.
But if it is in a vault, no matter how secure it is, what is the point of keeping it?
There is every chance that, because of Wright's popularity, his paintings, drawings and letters will increase considerably in value.
But how much would they be worth before the city council can no longer afford to keep them?
For argument's sake, would it be morally right for the collection to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds while the city is musing over care home closures or the like?
Of course, this point of view would be stifled if owning Wright's work could be seen to benefit the city commercially as well as being of notional heritage value.
Either way, what is most important is that a serious debate on the future of the collection starts now.