'I'd rebuild stately home to house Joseph Wright treasures'
THE owner of a dismantled stately home has offered for it to be rebuilt brick-by-brick to become a world-class Joseph Wright tourist attraction.
Kevin Ellis owns Burnaston House – a historic property taken apart in the 1990s and put into storage so the Toyota plant could be built.
Since then, Mr Ellis has made several attempts to secure planning permission to get the giant "jigsaw" reassembled in South Derbyshire but has been denied planning permission time and again.
Now, he says the house could be the ideal setting for a top-class tourist attraction to house the city's collection of Joseph Wright paintings and artefacts.
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He suggests it might be located in Darley Park.
Mr Ellis has spoken out in the wake of a new debate over whether the city is making the most of its works by the 18th-century artist.
In June it was revealed the city council owns £64 million of artworks, including millions of pounds worth by Wright – some of which is stored out of sight of the public gaze.
Businessman Mr Ellis said: "What I'm suggesting is the collection needs an iconic building and a stunning location and we have that in Derby. We have Burnaston House which is in my possession and we have Darley Park.
"It could be Allestree Hall and Allestree Park, but what I'm saying is without a dedicated attraction we are not going to get the tourism which the Joseph Wright collection demands.
"Without a stand-alone car park, without an iconic building, people won't consider the Joseph Wright collection as a tourist attraction."
At the moment, the huge Wright oils are on display in a dedicated room at the Museum and Art Gallery.
Mr Ellis believes they and the dozens of sketches which are in storage deserve more.
It was a viewpoint shared by the majority of 100 city people the Derby Telegraph surveyed recently.
The results showed 40% did not know who Joseph Wright was and believed more should be done to promote him.
It also prompted questions as to whether the city should cash in on its art heritage at a time of austerity.
But the paper was contacted by Alan Wright Bemrose, a direct descendant of Wright of Derby, whose family donated many of his oils to the city.
He said his family would have been horrified if the paintings they bequeathed were sold off.
Mr Ellis agreed. He said: "I think it is appalling to even suggest or think about selling off these paintings, particularly as some were donated by local families. In my eyes that's daylight robbery.
"What we are doing at the moment is historic. It is an exhibition grown within the art gallery and museum.
"When I was at school there was no mention of the Joseph Wright exhibition.
"Now that it is more prominent, surely it demands its own, stand-alone exhibition."
This month saw the official launch of Derby Museums, a charitable trust which will work to improve the city's museums service and promote Wright of Derby.
Its executive director, Stuart Gillis, said: "Derby Museums, the city council and other partners are working together on development schemes for various aspects of the city's excellent heritage.
"It is unclear how the type of proposal suggested could currently be accommodated; however, it's very useful to know about this resource.
"We suggest that Mr Ellis seeks guidance from English Heritage and advise him that he should not feel restricted to manage this resource in the best way he sees fit."
Derby Museums is drawing up its own plans to take the collection of Wright paintings on an international tour of top art galleries.
The exhibition would then end in Derby with a large celebratory event. Mr Gillis said he hoped the tour could show the people of Derby the true value of the collection.