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Portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) by Joseph Wright of Derby ARA (1734-1797)

Image LANMS_2004_6 (image/jpeg)

Sir Richard Arkwright is one of the most inspiring icons of the early industrial revolution. Born in Preston in 1732 the son of a tailor, he had no formal education and was apprenticed to a barber and wigmaker. Legend has it that he overheard rich merchant clients bemoaning the scarcity of strong spun cotton and so put his mind to finding a solution. He invented the spinning frame in 1768 which mastered the principle using 4 spindles. By 1771 he had developed the idea into 96 spindle frames, and equipped his new water powered mill in Cromford in Derbyshire with these so called waterframes.

Regarded as the creator of the modern factory system, Arkwright mechanised a process and centred production thereby increasing productivity. His factories made him very rich, he was knighted in 1786 and certainly changed the way of life for thousands by starting the modern cotton spinning industry leading to the growth of the port of Liverpool, the mercantile centre of Manchester and the towns and villages of Lancashire. Along with this came improved transport links from canals to railways, engineering developments from watermills to steam power and as such perhaps he should be regarded as one of the fathers of the industrial revolution.

This portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby painted in 1790, splendidly captures the energetic and self-confident personality of the celebrated inventor. Wright was an acclaimed English portrait and landscape painter, the first major English painter working outside London, and was well known for capturing the true character of the sitter.

The portrait was acquired by Lancashire County Council Museum Service with the support of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Friends of Helmshore Textile Museum.