Saturday, 20 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 7: 100 Objects - Time for Tea

Object 92  in Neil Macgregor's groundbreaking BBC Radio 4 series of 2010  ("A History of the World in 100 Objects") was a Wedgwood Victorian teaset,  a teapot, sugar bowl and cream jug, made about 1840-45.  He then describes the complex historical  processes involved in bringing the tea, sugar and fresh milk of the tea-drinking ritual to the British mass-market of the 19th century.

A History of the World in 100 Objects  Neil Macgregor  © Trustees of the British Museum and BBC Radio

Wedgwood's contribution was to provide the practical and pleasing-to-use tea services with which the ritual was enjoyed.  He developed earthenware which was heatproof, smooth, washable, and affordable and mass produced.  The tradition of fine design for tablewares continues to this day (e.g. see Martin Hunt's "'Plato" tea service in the V&A).

 Wedgwood teapot, rosso antico, c. 1805-1815
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Bone china teapot designed by Victor Skellern,  Wedgwood's Art Director, c.1937.
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedgwood jasper dip teapot, early 19th century, with reliefs designed by Elizabeth, Lady Templetown 1785-90
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Wedgwood earthenware teaset, Falling leaves pattern, 1939
© Victoria & Albert Museum

By 1800, tea was the new national drink.  Celina Fox (quoted by Neil Macgregor) explains the impetus it received in the 1840s.  "Temperance was huge.  Drink for the Victorians was a very big issue.  The desire to have a working population that was sober and industrious was very strong, and there was a great deal of propaganda to that effect.  Sobriety was tied in with dissent, Methodism and so on, and tea really was the drink of choice.  So it's happening on two levels: dissent and having an upright working population which gets to the factory on time and isn't drunk out of its mind, which always seems to be a British problem, and on top of that you have the ritual of afternoon tea.  So tea drinking really takes off in a massive way in the nineteenth century."

The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment  Celina Fox

Wedgwood, Dr. Darwin's pattern service,  blue jasper dip, c. 1820
© Victoria &  Albert Museum

Historians and curators like Macgregor and Fox depend on the availability of detailed archives like the Wedgwood Collection for their expert research, which is then shared with a much wider public.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 6: Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus Darwin of Lichfield was a physician, botanist, inventor and philosopher.   From his friendship with Matthew Boulton, the Birmingham manufacturer,  was born the Lunar (or Lunatic) society, shortly to be joined by Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, and James Watt, and other freethinkers. These friends and entrepreneurs met when the full moon gave them light to travel by, sharing ideas and discoveries  (and see The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow).  Erasmus and Josiah's close family friendship led to the marriage of their children, Robert Darwin and Susanna Wedgwood. 

Erasmus Darwin,   Wedgwood jasper portrait,  c.1850-1900, originally modelled by William Hackwood 1780, (after the portrait by Thomas Wright of Derby 1779)      © Fitzwilliam Museum

After his friend's death, Erasmus praised his achievements  in his poem The Botanic Garden of 1803, 

  "And pleased on WEDGWOOD ray your partial smile,
A new Etruria decks Britannia's isle.
Charmed by your touch, the kneaded clay refines,
The biscuit hardens, the enamel shines,
Each nicer mould a softer feature drinks,
The bold Cameo speaks, the soft Intaglio thinks."

This rich Waterlily design dinner service, based on accurate illustrations in botanical journals, was ordered for Erasmus's son, Dr. Robert Darwin (father of Charles) in 1807.  The brown underglaze printing was unusual and the overglaze gilding and hand-painted enamels made it expensive to produce;  production changed to the  much cheaper blue printing in 1811.   

Waterlily Plate, c. 1807-1808
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Monday, 15 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 5. The Useful and the Ornamental

"Usefulness is no more than a condition to be fulfilled.  Grace in fulfilment is an extra, properly called art."     Style in Pottery  Arthur Lane (of the Victoria and Albert Museum)

Wedgwood divided his production into Useful and Ornamental Wares.  The Useful Wares, such as the creamware table services, funded his research and the design outlay on the costly Ornamental Wares.

19th century Portrait medallions of Thomas Bentley (L) and Josiah Wedgwood (R),  from eighteenth century models.
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Josiah met Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant, on a visit to his suppliers in 1762.  Bentley became first Wedgwood's mentor, then his business partner ( in 1768) and lifelong friend.

Through Bentley, he widened his education in the arts and literature, and also gained introduction to the wealthy members of Society, who became his patrons and clients for Wedgwood's finest artistic wares  - the Ornamental goods, especially the classical-styled vases, which made the firm's reputation. Bentley oversaw the Ornamental wares, the jasper plaques, portrait medallions and statues and vases.

The fifty-four years of detailed correspondence between the two partners is a precious key part of the Wedgwood Museum archive.  (see

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 4: the enlightened Scotsman

"We walked hence to see the Palazzo Barberini, design'd by the now Pop<e>s Architect Cavaliere Bernini, & which I take to be as superb, and princely an object, as any modern building in Europ for the quantity:
…to this is annexed a Gallery completely furnish'd <with> whatsoever Art can call rare and singular, & a Library full of worthy Collections, Medails, Marbles, and Manuscripts;"

Diary entry, Rome,  November 1644, John Evelyn, (ed. E.S. de Beer)

Among the Collections, was a Roman blue glass cameo vase,  decorated with scenes in white relief,  dating from the reign of Augustus, which (already famous for its beauty and mystery) was acquired by the Barberini family in 1627.  Over a century and a half  later in 1780 it was sold to meet gambling debts and in turn was sold on by James Byres to Sir William Hamilton in 1783.

James Byres, the dealer and intermediary, was an architect, antiquarian and scholar from Aberdeen, whose family fled to France after the Jacobite rising, then living in Rome and leading English visitors around the sights.
 "My guide was Mr. Byres, a Scottish antiquary of experience and taste.  But in the
daily labour of 18 weeks the powers of attention were sometimes fatigued."   Memoirs  Edward Gibbon


Temple of the Sybil in Tivoli,  etching, G.& F. Piranesi, c. 1756

Byres made a serious study of Etruscan painted tombs, on which the Adam brothers drew for their fashionable neoclassical interiors. His scholarly and philosophical interests also stretched to fossils and volcanoes, interests he shared with Sir William Hamilton, and it was the influence of Byres's pioneering work that led Wedgwood to name his new factory "Etruria".

see:  The Portland Vase  Susan Walker © Trustees of the British Museum

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 3. "Am I not a Man and a Brother?"

"Fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom."      Thomas Clarkson

"Am I not a Man and a Brother?"  from Thomas Day's poem The Dying Negro,  was used on these Wedgwood medallions  issued in support of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade.

Emancipation Badge,  jasper ware, c.1787, originally modelled by Willam Hackwood as the Society seal,  from a design by Henry Webber.
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Wedgwood was an active supporter of the anti-slavery campaign and sent a batch of his medallions to Benjamin Franklin in America to spread the word.

[Black African slaves were a fashionable addition to one's household in the 18th century; notice the black pageboy in the tea party image in the previous blog.]

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 2. "a double dose of Wedgwood"

"There was more reserve about my grandmother, because she was a Wedgwood.  My father explained to me once,  that my grandfather [Charles Darwin] was rather different from his children, because he was only half a Wedgwood, while they had a double dose of Wedgwood blood in them, owing to two Darwin-Wedgwood marriages in two successive generation.  'You've none of you ever seen a Darwin who wasn't mostly Wedgwood,' he said rather sadly, as of a dying strain.  He can hardly have known any pure Darwin himself, as his grandfather Robert, the last unmitigated Darwin of the line, died when he was only three."

Period Piece  Gwen Raverat

Wedgwood Creamware teapot, c. 1780
© Fitzwilliam Museum 

Gwen Raverat is known for her engravings - as a child she wanted to be 'Mrs. Bewick' - and trained at the Slade with Stanley Spencer.   She grew up with an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins in Cambridge, and holidayed in the countryside at Down House.  Tea parties and grazing sheep would have been very familiar to her.

This teapot was part  of the major collection of ceramics given to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Dr J.W.L. Glaisher,  who, like Gwen Raverat's father George Darwin, was a don at Trinity College, Cambridge and a President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Saving the Wedgwood Collection

The wonderful, historic and irreplaceable Wedgwood Collection will be lost without public support: please see for more information.

Some 20 years of Josiah Wedgwood's experiments separates these two pieces:

Jasper firing trial, c.1770s
(2.4 x 2.0 cms)
© V&A Museum

The Portland Vase, c. 1790
(Ht. 25.5 cms)
© V&A Museum


Wedgwood  had begun his experiments long before, early in his career:

"This suite of Experiments was begun at Fenton Hall, in the parish of Stoke upon Trent, about the beginning of the year 1759, in my partnership with Mr Whieldon, for the improvement of our manufacture of earthenware, which at that time stood in great need of it, the demand for our goods decreasing daily, and the trade universally complained of as being bad & in a declining condition.

White stone ware (viz. with salt glaze) was the principal article of our manufacture; but this had been made a long time, and the prices were now reduced so low that the potters could not afford to bestow much expence upon it , or make it so good in any respect as the ware would otherwise admit of. And with regard to Elegance of form, that was an object very little attended to.

…these considerations induced me to try for some more solid improvement, as well  in the Body as the Glazes, the Colours, the Forms, of the articles of our manufacture.

I saw the field was spacious, and the soil so good, as to promise an ample recompence to any one who should labour diligently in its cultivation."

Experiment Book of Josiah Wedgwood  Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston