Distinguishing himself from his contemporaries through his style, palette and light effects, Wright of Derby made an extremely original contribution to the art of his time. Starting out as a portraitist of the middle classes, Wright developed an interest in landscape painting during a trip to Italy in 1773. On his return home, he favoured compositions depicting Vesuvius in eruption, scenes of nocturnal illuminations such as fireworks, and caves bathed in light, from which he created landscapes with a certain mysterious quality. His paintings of moonlight owe something to the work of Joseph Vernet, but are more in the realm of scientific observations than romantic descriptions.
Wright obtained his chiaroscuro effects by using an underlay of silver leaf and superimposing pigments in order to optimally refract light. Fascinated by contrasting lighting effects, in the 1780s he executed a number of nocturnal scenes, including this masterful moonlit landscape.