The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus

painting by Joseph Wright of Derby

The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus is a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby which was finished in 1771, then redone 1795.[1] The full title of the painting is "The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers".[2]

The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus
ArtistJoseph Wright of Derby
Year1771 (1771)
Dimensions127 cm × 101.6 cm (50 in × 40.0 in)
LocationDerby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby

The picture shows an alchemist trying to produce the rare Philosopher's Stone, which could turn metal into gold, but instead, to his surprise, he finds phosphorus.[3] The picture has provoked many different understandings. The picture moved with Wright to Italy in 1773-1775, came back to England, was redone in 1795, but was only sold four years after his death.[1] It is on show at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. A story was often printed in popular chemical books in Wright’s lifetime, and was widely known.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Vertesi, Janet. "Light and Enlightenment in Joseph Wright of Derby's The Alchymist". ReoCities. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  2. "The Alchymist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone (Exhibited 1771)". Revolutionary Players. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  3. Nicolson, Benedict (1968). Joseph Wright of Derby: painter of light, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 118. ISBN 9780710062840.