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Wedgwood Pottery Productions
[Josiah Wedgwood - The Artist] [Wedgwood's Working Life] [Wedgwood Glossary]
Pieces of Wedgwood mounted in various ways for use and ornament are correctly termed "Applied Wedgwood." Cabinetmakers used cameos and medallions in fine cabinets, commodes, tables, pianos, tea caddies, knife boxes, trays, writing, and workboxes. Portrait medallions were mounted with frames of gold, wood, steel, silver, and paneled paper. Vases of graniteware, basaltes, and jasper were combined with glass, crystal, silver, ormolu, and bronze for lighting devices. There were articles for masculine adornment., namely, chatelaines, dress or court swords, boxes for snuff and toothpicks, watches, buckles, and buttons, and such feminine accessories as fans, scent bottles, etuis, carnets de bal, toilet and workboxes, rings, opera glasses, tiaras, bracelets, necklaces, cufflinks, and earrings. Bellpulls, doorknobs, escutcheon plates, inkpots, and weighing pans for scales, are the more unusual examples. Mountings were made by some of the great craftsmen of the period-Boulton, the silversmith; Henry Clay, the inventor of "panelled paper"; Nodes, Copestake, and Beilby, goldsmiths of London, Uttoxeter, and Durllam; glassmakers of London, Birmingham, and Bristol; and cut-steel makers of Soho and Wolverhampton.
Tablets and plaques were also used by architects in various room schemes. The famous Amethyst Room, designed for the Empress Catherine of Russia by the Scotch architect, Charles Cameron, had them set in chimney pieces and walls as part of the architectural treatment of the room. Sometimes only the mantelpiece would be inset with plaques as in the dining room at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
Wedgwood divided his series of portraits into many classes: There were "Illustrious Persons of Asia, Egypt, Greece"; 12 Caesars and their Empresses; 64 Emperors from Nerva to Constantine the Great; 253 Heads of the Popes; 36 English Rulers and 63 Kings of France (including a queen, Marie Antoinette). The "Illustrious Moderns" included 52 Princes; 52 Statesmen and Commanders; 30 Philosophers and Naturalists; io Physicians; 24 English Poets; 7 French Poets; 13 Painters; 4 Architects; 3 Antiquaries; i i Divines and Moral Writers; and 23 Ladies. In each of the groups of Moderns more subjects exist than were listed, the number of doctors, for instance, actually running well over twenty.
The portrait medallions are found in several bodies, but those in all black basaltes and in jasper are most frequently seen. Besides those made from wax models and engraved stones done from life by such artists as Joachim Smith, Isaac Gosset, William Hackwood, John Flaxman, Nathaniel Marchant, and others, many were made from paintings and engravings; from medals by Nini, Dupre, and Dassier; and from molds furnished by James Tassie whose medium was glass paste.
Most of the medallions are small but specimens in a series issued about 1778 were about iol by 7-3/4 inches. The largest portrait medallion known to have been made by Wedgwood is that in basaltes of Peter the Great which is 18 by 14 inches. One of the two examples known to the writer is framed with a band of silver. The other has a molded frame in self material. Smaller portrait medallions were issued with or without molded frames in Wedgwood's lifetime, but as the same method has been followed by his successors, the molded border is no indication of age.
The "vase madness" which existed in Europe from the seventeenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries with relation to Chinese, Delft, and other continental specimens, and for ancient Greek and Roman examples excavated on Italian sites was responsible for the great number of vases produced in Wedgwood's lifetime. In 1769, Horace Walpole commented on the crowds at an exhibition of vases from Staffordshire, and Wedgwood himself recorded in the same year that there was "no getting to the door for coaches, nor into the rooms for Ladies and Gentlemen; and Vases are all the rage."
Between 1759 and 1795 Wedgwood made vases in two hundred and fifty shapes. They were decorative objects for rooms and were sold in pairs or sets of three, five, or seven for mantelpieces, cabinets, and bookcases. They were purely ornamental and, as they were not intended to hold flowers, they were generally provided with covers. The size ranged from 3 inches including the pedestal to 20 inches. Hundreds were made in Queen's ware, plain, fluted, and with relief decoration. Many were marbled or pebbled, sprinkled or veined to be in harmony with the various marbles and stones of chimney pieces, table tops, and walls of the period.
In 1767, the first black-basaltes vases were produced. Bronze encaustic appeared in 1768 and plain encaustic in 1769. Fluting and relief decoration on black vases were not used until 1776 and silver encaustic did not appear until 1790. The jasper vases, plain and with festoons, cameos, and subjects in relief in two colors were first offered between 1782 and 1795, many of the finest dating after 1786. Some had reversible covers with a nozzle for holding a taper or pierced covers for the fumes from pastilles. Each vase was thrown on the wheel and decorated by hand, an artist finishing all parts of the relief work and beading by hand before firing. In some cases the background was tooled or lapidary polished.
Among three of the best known types are the so-called Wine and Water Vases attributed to Flaxman as original work, but which according to my findings were from casts of works by the French Sculptor, Clodion (1738-1814); the Apotheosis or Pegasus Vases which Wedgwood completed in 1786, the design in relief being done by Flaxman from a design on a painted Greek crater-shaped vase in Sir William Hamilton's collection; and the Portland Vase. Wedgwood's first successful copy of this vase, a GraecoRoman amphora of deep blue glass, was exhibited in London during April and May 1790. Others were made between 1791 and 1796. As 29 is the highest number yet found on any copy, it is believed that no more than thirty copies were made at this period. These must not be confused with the many copies in different sizes and bodies which were made by the Wedgwood firm in succeeding years. One of the few copies of the first edition made between 1791 and 1796 may be seen in the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the bequest of Grenville Lindell Winthrop to Harvard University.
BOUGHPOTS, BULB POTS, AND FLOWER HOLDERS
The variety of root pots, boughpots, flowerpots and vases made by Wedgwood in the eighteenth century is hard to comprehend. They composed Class I of the articles with which he proposed to start his partnership with Thomas Bentley: "Root flower-pots ot various sorts ornamented R plain. Essence pots, Bough pots, flowerpots, and cornucopias." From the beginning, he had made common red- and stoneware flowerpots, advancing to green glaze and creamware, which was fluted, hooped, festooned, and enameled, then to basaltes and jasper. Boughpots he defined as being intended for branches on a hearth or under a marble table. The bulb pots suggested by old hyacinth glasses from Holland had cuplike receptacles to hold bulbs, the roots reaching the water or earth in the vessel.
Vases for the mantelpiece in the eighteenth century never held flowers. Vases intended for flowers had pierced grids to support the stalks; by the substitution of a grid with cuplike containers, the same vessel could be used for bulbs. Wedgwood consulted a Mr. and Mrs. Southwell who were "adepts" in the art of flower arranging which Wedgwood defined as "the art of disposing the most beautiful productions of nature in the most agreeable, picturesque, and striking manner to the eves of the beholder." He noted that some ladies eyes vases with spouts like the old Delph ones "as they say that sort keep the flowers distinct and clever." Many of these five or more fingered vases were made in Queen's ware. Wedgwood also discovered that plants did better in unglazed pots than in those that were glazed. Cornucopias and wall pockets occur in salt glaze and tortoise shell, green glaze and Queen's ware and other materials.
LAMPS AND CANDLEHOLDERS
Wedgwood's interest in providing better lighting was evidenced in many ways. In 1771 in order to make a chamber lamp burn with less smoke, he devised a tin tube for the wick; in order to get more light, he made a double lamp with "two tin tubes so bent that they will stand upright when let down into the vessel." The same year, to make a lamp fit a large "lanthorn" in a great house, he put a peg or post in the bottom of the lamp so that it would fit the candle socket found in the "lanthorn." Thereafter, he produced numerous peg lamps for candle sockets of all kinds. He converted candlesticks and vases into lamps, and in 1787 he advertised lamps "in jasper of two colors adapted to Argand's patent lamp, the brilliant light of which thrown on the bas-reliefs has a singular and beautiful effect." Some lamps were made with a single burner, others with two, three, or four burners. He also made vases with reversible covers for use with a candle at night.
Candleholders were of many types-tall, slender, molded, pierced, reeded, and fluted, square or cylindrical designed for the table; saucer or dish types with handle and accompanying extinguisher for the bed chamber. These were made in practically every body. Taper nozzles accompanied writing sets, and sometimes the nozzle of a small Roman-type lamp was used for a taper, the coiled taper being within the vessel. Designs based on Roman hand lamps were popular as were lamps and candle nozzles supported by animals, tritons, dolphins, and caryatid figures. Lamp cups for oil and tiny tripods to hold the wick were made for heaters of tisane pots, travelers' and nursery lamps. Pastille or incense burners in great variety were made from low saucer types to important vessels supported on caryatid figures. Some of the covers showed intricate piercings.
Old invoice and account books reveal that boxes were an important item from the earliest period. There were boxes for wafers, for sand and writing implements; for sewing, lacemaking, knitting, and water-color painting; for carvedivory and mother-of-pearl counters for games; for snuff and tobacco; for knives and forks; for toothpicks, powder, pomade, almond cream, patches, nutmeg, tinder, needles, thimbles, and puzzles. Sugar boxes matched all the styles of tea, coffee, and chocolate equipages.
Many boxes were made in creamware, green glaze, tortoise shell, basaltes, white and colored jasper, caneware, redware, and agate. Sometimes they were plain, transfer-printed, or painted with flowers, sometimes fluted, or with relief designs. They were also made of wood, tortoise shell, ivory, gold, steel, marble, silver, and other materials, and mounted with Wedgwood cameos and medallions.
A covered cylindrical creamware box lined with spikes is said to have been for whipping eggs or cream.
Paint boxes are more or less of a curiosity today. They were made in great variety, "buff & white fluted," "black & cane fluted," and "white bisque" all for four or five shillings. A more elaborate one cost one pound five shillings. They contained a palette for water-color painting and cups for colors with a rack to hold them and a tiny mortar and pestle for grinding the colors.
BUSTS AND FIGURES
In the eighteenth century, busts and figures were demanded by the wealthy for the adornment of halls and libraries. Wedgwood made them in creamware bodies with overglaze colors, then in his perfected materials. Gibbon's study at Lausanne was ornamented with twelve busts in basaltes which had been bought at Wedgwood's London rooms and delivered in 1783.
In America, busts were also favorite ornaments for mantelpieces, doorways, bookcases, and tall chests. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York there is a desk which was used by Washington when he commanded the troops at the Siege of Boston in 1776. In the broken pediment at the top is a basaltes bust of Shakespeare. The bust of Shakespeare was advertised in the catalogue of Wedgwood & Bentley in 1776.
In that year, records show that there were four workers constantly employed on busts. It required a fortnight to mold one and Wedgwood sometimes took the modeling tool in his own hand and worked on it himself. The busts vary from 4 to 25 inches. Subjects include illustrious persons from ancient and modern times. Although basaltes was the most usual material, busts occur in all-white biscuit, caneware, and the red rosso antico. After Wedgwood's death in 1795, busts continued to be made, mainly in the all-black basaltes. At the time of the revival of interest following the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, some new subjects were added. Wesley, Watt, Scott, Byron, Campbell, Palmerston, the two Stephensons, and Wedgwood himself were modeled in the nineteenth century, and most of these occur in the white statuaryware as well as in the basaltes.
Sources included prints, gems, plaster casts, and wax models and when we consider the inequality of source material and the fact that each piece, after it left the modeler's hands was subjected to the contraction of an intense fire, the busts seem surprisingly fine.
Subjects of figures include animals, sphinxes, boys, and contemporary men such as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Rodney. The largest were the reclining figure of Morpheus, 25 inches long; the seated Hercules with a serpent which was 20 inches high; and the standing Apollo Belvedere which was 36 inches high.
Among animals were "Egyptian lions," bulls, chimeras, griffins, elephants, and pug dogs, the last modeled from Hogarth's favorite dog.
Wedgwood was always careful to distinguish between Egyptian and Grecian sphinxes. The Grecian sphinx was represented with a woman's head, with or without wings, reclining or sitting. Wedgwood knew that there were no sitting winged sphinxes or any with female heads in Egyptian art, and he was very exact in his renderings. The sphinx figures were adapted as paperweights or as supports for candle nozzles, lamps, and pastille burners.
Mention should also be made of the figures in the chess set designed by John Flaxman with Mrs. Siddons as the Queen, and of the many carefully modeled figures used to surmount vases, teapots, and urns. They include the Pegasus in Clouds, Apollo with Lyre, Zeus with Eagle, the seated "Widow," dogs, lions, and birds. Bacchus, Ganymede, Neptune, and Venus were done from famous statues, primarily for use in wall niches in Adam interiors.
The smaller figures, like those in porcelain, were in demand for ornamentation on grand banquet and supper tables. Many of them were in all-white jasper on colored plinths or pedestals. Cupid Sitting Pensive was after Falconet's famous Cupid Menasant, and the Venus and Mercury from Pigalle's well-known statues. Mars, known in both basaltes and jasper, and the companion Venus, holding an apple out of reach of a child, examples of which are in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, were sold over a long period.