The iron industry was emblematic of the Industrial Revolution. Joseph Wright of Derby's painting An Iron Forge was first exhibited in June 1772. The painting was engraved as a mezzotint by Richard Earlom, who signed the image in the plate. It was published by John Boydell in London in January 1773.
Wright had close contact with the pioneering industrialists of the Midlands. Two of his most important patrons were Josiah Wedgwood, credited with the industrialization of pottery manufacture, and Richard Arkwright, regarded as the creator of the factory system in the cotton industry.