An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump1768, J…

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

1768, Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’

A travelling scientist is shown demonstrating the formation of a vacuum by withdrawing air from a flask containing a white cockatoo, though common birds like sparrows would normally have been used. […] The bird will die if the demonstrator continues to deprive it of oxygen, and Wright leaves us in doubt as to whether or not the cockatoo will be reprieved. The painting reveals a wide range of individual reactions, from the frightened children, through the reflective philosopher, the excited interest of the youth on the left, to the indifferent young lovers concerned only with each other.

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