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This work is comparable to Wright`s `Landscape with Rainbow`, in the collection of Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
The Derby Museum version is signed and dated 1794, and is believed (according to Judy Egerton in her 1990 Tate catalogue on Wright of Derby) to be that listed in the account book with no price -she concludes that Wright must have produced one for himself, having felt sorry that his first was to leave England. But based on Wright`s letters, it would appear he painted the Derby version first (being dated 1794), and produced a second version for Nathanial Philips (not completed until late 1795) which subsequently was due to leave for America. The provenance of the Derby painting shows that it was among the contents of Wright`s studio sale in 1801, and eventually ended-up with his daughter and her descendents before passing to A. J. Keene to be purchased from him by Derby Museums in 1913. According to Egerton, the `American version` is untraced.
Several references are to be found amongst Wright`s letters and papers to the "Landscape with Rainbow`:
Letter: Joseph Wright to John Leigh Philips, 30 May 1793
`I am trying my hand at a rainbow effect.`
Letter: Joseph Wright to John Leigh Philips, 27 Dec 1794
`Your relation to Mr N. Philips, to whom I sometime ago sold the picture of the city of Florence, called upon me last week & engaged the picture wth the rainbow, the cottage on fire & the small sea storm -wch I find he intends sending to America I am sorry the two first leave the kingdom.`
Letter: Joseph Wright to John Leigh Philips, 27 May 1795
`Your kinsman was here the other day & wd fain have paid me for the pictures he engaged sometime ago, but as they still want the figures, I declined accepting it from my present feelings. I fear I shall not be able to compleat `em, ere he leaves the Kingdom.`
Letter: Joseph Wright to John Leigh Philips, 2 October 1795
`I thought I shd never have had it in my power to finish the pictures your relation ingaged, but they are now within a few hours of being completed.`
Letter: Joseph Wright to John Leigh Philips, 18 Dec 1795
`I have sent off to Nottingham your kinsman`s pictures, where they are to remain sometime ere they are to be sent to America.`
Wright`s account book: `Picture of a bridge with the effect of a rainbow -zz111.`
By descent from the Marshall family.
The Marshall family were in salt, as miners and merchants/processors, Thomas Marshall proclaiming himself in 1817 the largest Salt Proprietor in the Kingdom, having inherited the family business and wealth of generations.
Thomas Marshall and his brother John were reckoned to be the wealthiest family and greatest industrial combine in mid Cheshire, and their homes in Hartford and Northwich were described within the family notes (Green Bank Manor, Hartfield - John`s home): "Here lay all the family`s precious heirlooms, the jewels, trinkets, watches, portraits, title deeds, and family settlement. John acquired fine furniture, silverware, and precious china goods. He loaded the old house with every item that could give comfort and pleasure to a busy bachelor. About 1820, Marshall rebuilt the front portion of the house, facing the Weaver Valley, to provide massive drawing, reception and bed rooms."
His brother Thomas and his wife Elizabeth filled the walls of their fine new Regency residence Hartford Beach, with "prints and paintings. They owned prints of historical characters and scenes. They loved scenes of hunting and of the countryside, perhaps because they had been so long divorced from rural pursuits. Their oil paintings ranged through Farrington`s `Conway Castle`, to Dutch Old Masters, from Elmore`s `A Hare Sitting`, and `Partridges feeding`, to Dort in Holland. The family portraits went to the Beach in 1833."
Though there are no conclusive links between Wright and the Marshall family, it does nonetheless illustrate that it is this kind of wealthy household where a painting of that sort of importance could easily have been within the collection. Perhaps if the second version of the Rainbow was indeed too late to go to America with Phillips, it may have stayed in England and been sold elsewhere. Certainly, with the Marshall family wealth and business at its peak in the late 18th/early 19th century, under Thomas and John Marshall, during which time they became the leading salt trading company, it could place them amongst the pioneering industrialists which Wright was patronised by, including Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Arkwright.