Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness  by Matthew Craske wins prestigious William MB Berger Prize 2021

Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness by Matthew Craske has been announced as the winner of the 19th annual William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.

The work – published by Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art – saw off a shortlist including works spanning more than 400 years of art history, books exploring the Edwardians and their houses, Christopher Wren, the late works of J.M.W Turner, early Irish sculpture and London’s art and culture in the 1960s.


The annual prize created to recognize excellence in the field of British art history was created in 2001 by the Berger Collection Educational Trust (BCET) and The British Art Journal, in honour of the late American collector and patron William MB Berger.


Since its inception, the Berger Prize has come to be recognized as the most respected in the field.


A panel of seven judges assessed all the works and picked Matthew Craske as the winner, who will receive £5000.

Matthew Craske says “The Berger Prize has become a significant platform for the promotion of British art and for those who write about it. I am glad of the opportunity to share that platform with the other excellent books that were listed for consideration for this accolade. Not least, literary prizes lend a second opportunity, after the initial publication, for books to be noticed by potential readers. I hope that the publicity generated will trigger a fresh pulse of curiosity for the extraordinary range of topics and approaches that have presented themselves for consideration this year.”    

This revelatory study of Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797) – one of the 18th century’s greatest artists – places him in relation to the darker side of the English Enlightenment

Though conventionally known as a ‘painter of light’, Wright of Derby returned repeatedly to nocturnal images. His essential preoccupations were dark and melancholy, and he had an enduring concern with death, ruin, old age, loss of innocence, isolation and tragedy.

“Once again we’ve been presented with a vast array of brilliantly researched and written books, as always it is a hugely difficult job to pick a shortlist, let alone a winner.”

Professor Robin Simon, Editor, The British Art Journal

Matthew Craske being presented with the 2021 Berger Prize by Katherine MB Berger, daughter of William MB Berger and Trustee of the Berger Collection Educational Trust  on Tuesday 30 November during an event at The Society of Antiquaries of London.

“The Berger Collection Educational Trust was established with the ethos that a deeper understanding of art and history will provide viewers and readers with new insights into the world and themselves – and Matthew Craske’s book on Joseph Wright of Derby perfectly encapsulates that.”

Katherine MB Berger, daughter of William MB Berger and Trustee of the Berger Collection Educational Trust

In this long-awaited book, Matthew Craske adopts a fresh approach to Wright, which takes seriously contemporary reports of his melancholia and nervous disposition and goes on to question accepted understandings of the artist. Long seen as a quintessentially modern and progressive figure – one of the artistic icons of the English Enlightenment – Craske overturns this traditional view of the artist. He demonstrates the extent to which Wright, rather than being a spokesman for scientific progress, was a melancholic and sceptical outsider, who increasingly retreated into a solitary, rural world of philosophical and poetic reflection, and whose artistic vision was correspondingly dark and meditative.

Craske offers a succession of new and powerful interpretations of the artist’s paintings, including some of his most famous masterpieces. In doing so, he recovers Wright’s deep engagement with the landscape, with the pleasures and sufferings of solitude, and with the themes of time, history and mortality. In this book, Joseph Wright of Derby emerges not only as one of Britain’s most ambitious and innovative artists, but also as one of its most profound.

2021 Berger Prize - Short List

A selection of assessors' comments is added beside each title

Timothy Britain-Caitlin
The Edwardians and their Houses
Lund Humphries
ISBN 9781848222687
pp224 col 121 bw 70 £45

‘Highly enjoyable’ ‘The pictures are seductive’. ‘It is an excellent take on architects and kinds of architecture that do not receive much attention.’ ‘Very well written and a delightful exploration of some intriguing purlieus: I never thought I would be so gripped by suburban villas.’ ‘Very strong and revealing about the figure of John Lubbock, and social history.’ ‘Sets out a challenging social and political thesis.’

Matthew Craske
Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
ISBN 9781913107123
pp386 col 195 + bw £45

‘This book shakes up most of our long-standing ideas about Wright of Derby, and is an original, stimulating and fresh look at the creator of some of the most familiar British masterpieces.’ ‘It asks all the questions and answers them.’ ‘This is the book that all succeeding scholars will have to confront when they think about Wright of Derby, who emerges from this radical study as a truly intriguing figure, and very different from the way he has always been thought of.’

Vaughan Hart
Christopher Wren. In Search of Eastern Antiquity
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
ISBN 9781913107079
pp232 col 180 + bw £45

‘A wonderful book that clarified and amplified an aspect of Wren that is little understood or appreciated.’ ‘I did enjoy this book, so much digging away in libraries and among prints.’ ‘This excellent book fruitfully re-examines contemporary understanding of Eastern architecture, and offers a most successful counterblast to the enduring habit of always referring to the classical past in attempts to understand Wren.’

Sam Smiles
The Late Works of J.M.W. Turner
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
ISBN 9781913107161
pp312 col160 + bw £35

‘Fascinating in its challenge to received thoughts about the phenomenon of ‘late style.’ ‘This is very much a “Turner in context” book, a work of real scholarship and original thought.’ ‘It shows there is always something new to say about the most familiar things and about Turner in particular.’ ‘Very granular knowledge of Turner, the author simply knows so much about the artist.’ ‘Very well written from a position of real authority.’

Roger Stalley
Early Irish Sculpture and the Art of the High Crosses
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
ISBN 9781913107093
pp248 col 196 + bw £40

‘An outstanding book, a distillation of a life-time’s expertise.’ ‘Narrowly focused but in an entirely good way, intensely examining a small group of early 10th-century crosses but illuminating the wider and later technical history of sculpture, patronage and purpose.’ ‘Who would have thought’, another added, ‘that connoisseurship and scholarship could combine so excitingly in this field?’ ‘This book is quite wonderful. Beautifully written. I couldn’t stop reading it, which was not at all what I expected.’

Lisa Tickner
London’s New Scene. Art and Culture in the 1960s
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
ISBN 9781913107109
pp416 col 80  bw 120 £35

‘This was like reading a contemporary chronicle, a world observed from the inside, using an archive and multiple sources to great effect.’ ‘This was a great read, an indispensable guide through the period.’ ‘There is nothing quite like this book, a real page-turner.’ ‘The astonishing photographs and highly informed text re-create a famous if now lost world: well, it’s not lost any more, and it was such a key period in British culture.’



Anna Leafing through a Folder of Prints by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (née Epps) (1852–1909), 1874. Oil on panel, 11.3 x 31.4 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. See Recovering Anna Alma-Tadema (1867–1943) on pp32-43.

This months featured article is Southwark Fair by William Hogarth (1697–1764) does show Southwark Fair by Robin Simon



2 | The Berger Prize 2021: Winner


3 | Alessio Costarelli
Dancing Girl statues by Antonio Canova (1757–1822) belonging to Lord Londonderry
A new document and some hypotheses

8 | Robert LS Cowley
The shock of the new
William Hogarth (1697–1764) and the influence of Isaac Newton (1642–1727) and his followers

29 |Alex Grafen
Paul Nash (1889–1946) in Voices
Two unremarked articles

32 | Susie Beckham
Recovering Anna Alma-Tadema (1867–1943)

44 | David Platzer
In quest of Harold Acton (1904–1994)

57 | Richard Coppin
Aspiration, display, and misfortune
The Old Bond Street townhouse of Tilly Kettle (1735–1786)

48 | Jenny Brownrigg & Susannah Thompson  
Early Eardley
A reconsideration of Joan Eardley (1921–1963) (1872–1945)

80 | Robin Simon
Southwark Fair by William Hogarth (1697–1764) does show Southwark Fair


2021 Berger Prize - Long List

Matthew Reeve
Gothic Architecture and Sexuality in the Circle of Horace Walpole
Pennsylvania State University Press £59.95

Stephen Calloway and
Caroline Corbeau-Parsons
Aubrey Beardsley
Tate Publishing £25

Martin Harrison, ed
Inside Francis Bacon
The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing in association with Thames & Hudson £28

Gill Hedley
Arthur Jeffress, A Life in Art
Bloomsbury Visual Arts £25

Tom Williamson
Humphrey Repton: Landscape Design in an Age of Revolution
Reaktion Books £35

Timothy Britain-Caitlin
The Edwardians and Their Houses: The New Life of Old England
Lund Humphries £45

Geoffrey Bond and Christine Kenyon Jones
Dangerous to Show: Byron and his Portraits
Unicorn Publishing £25

David Blayney Brown, Amy Concannon, Sam Smiles
Turner’s Modern World
Tate Publishing £25

Susan Owens
Spirit of Place: Artists, Writers and the British Landscape
Thames & Hudson £25

William Feaver
The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame 1968–2011
Bloomsbury Publishing £35

Lydia Hamlett
Mural Painting in Britain 1630-1730: Experiencing Histories
Routledge £120

Diane Waggoner
Lewis Carroll’s Photography and Modern Childhood
Princeton University Press £54

Tabitha Parker
British Baroque: Power and Illusion
Tate Publishing £25

Ghislaine Wood
Art Deco by the Sea
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts £25

Martina Droth and Paul Messier, eds
Bill Brandt / Henry Moore
The Yale Center for British Art £50

Alex Kidson
After Darkness Light: The Birth of the Liverpool Annual Exhibitions 1871-1876
Sansom & Co £25

Diana Davis
The Tastemakers: British Dealers and the Anglo-Gallic Interior, 1785–1865
Getty Publications £50

Stephen Bann
Scenes and Traces of the English Civil War
Reaktion Books £40

Conal Shields et al.
John Constable
THOTH Publishers, Netherlands €24.95

Andrew Lambirth
The Art of Richard Eurich
Lund Humphries £45

Paul Greenhalgh, ed
The Nature of Dreams: England and the Formation of Art Nouveau
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts £25

Karen Hearn
Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media
Paul Holberton Publishing £17.50

Matthew Craske
Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £45

Melody Deusner
Aesthetic Painting in Britain and America: Collectors, Art Worlds, Networks
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £40

Sam Smiles
The Late Works of J. M. W. Turner: The Artist and his Critics
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £35

Thomas Crow
The Hidden Mod in Modern Art: London, 1957–1969
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £25

Lisa Tickner
London’s New Scene: Art and Culture in the 1960s
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £35

Roger A. Stalley
Early Irish Sculpture and the Art of the High Crosses
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £35

Cora Gilroy-Ware
The Classical Body in Romantic Britain
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £40

Vaughan Hart
Christopher Wren: In Search of Eastern Antiquity
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art £45


BAJ 4-2cover?

The British Art Journal was launched at a reception given at the Thomas Coram Foundation (now the Foundling Museum), 40 Brunswick Square WC1 on 1 July 1999. Two issues were published in the first year, and three issues have been published every year since.

The British Art Journal publishes original research on British art of all periods, and actively encourages the work of younger scholars. Articles cover most fields of art-historical research, including painting and the graphic arts, books and publishing, sculpture, architecture, the decorative arts, and the history of dress.
Submissions are invited from scholars.
Main articles are usually 3,000 – 7,500 words, but it is a policy of the journal to consider longer articles up to 20,000 words; shorter articles up to 3,000 words.
Suggestions for reviews of books and exhibitions are welcomed. 
Contact the Editor, 

All research articles are refereed.