The name “Wedgwood” is probably one of the most well known associated with porcelain and pottery in the Western world. Josiah Wedgwood was born in 1730 into a family of potters at Burslem in Staffordshire, the great centre of English ceramics. Staffordshire is synonymous with the production of porcelain and pottery, as the county is uniquely positioned with potting clay and the plentiful water supply necessary for the manufacture of fine ceramics.
Potting in Staffordshire has had an uninterrupted history of over 300 years, with many household names originating from, what were often, very small, family potteries. Principals among these are names such as Wedgwood, Minton and Spode, many of these famous names now amalgamated into large international companies.
Josiah Wedgwood was known as a man full of new ideas, a man who experimented tirelessly to develop and refine his product. One of Wedgwood’s most outstanding achievements was his painstaking development of his famous jasper. Jasper would be best described as hard, fine grained, stoneware and was introduced in 1774, but it was not until 1779, that Wedgwood was able to successfully produce plaques and vases in the exquisite range of pastel colours known today as Wedgwood Jasper.
Wedgwood’s years of trial and error with colours and firing techniques, led to the superb range of colours that we know today. With a range of colours such as sage green, yellow, lilac and the famous pale blue, all derived from metallic oxides discovered by Wedgwood. To fully understand and appreciate the position of a man like Wedgwood in his 18th century world, we need to understand a little of "how society worked".
His age was the age of the patron or of one who could "smooth the way" because of his social rank. Society was very clearly classified between the social classes; from the rural working class, the merchant class and the titled, aristocratic land owning class.
It was this upper class to which men like Wedgwood needed to appeal for patronage and support. Wedgwood went right to the top and through connections was received by the Queen, Queen Charlotte, consort to King George III.
The Queen was delighted with Wedgwood’s presentation gift of rather plain and simple cream ware, Wedgwood had done his homework! and knew that both the King and Queen had, what was considered, simple taste, so he knew exactly what to present. His simple cream ware was very quickly renamed “Queen’s Ware” and promptly opened the door to the clients which were able to support his beautiful neo classic, expensive jasper.
Pair Of 19th Century Wedgwood Blue Jasper Candlestick Lamps - Circa 1870
Solid jasper, as the name suggests, is coloured throughout, the various colours produced with different metallic oxides, whereas dipped jasper is a white stoneware, dipped into a vat of metallic oxide receiving a surface colour, technically, an applied slip of coloured jasper.
The white jasper decoration we usually see on coloured jasper, known as “applied relief”, was made separately in plaster moulds from a design and typically carved in solid wax. The cast relief was then “sprigged on”, (a ceramic term meaning “to apply”), to the relief to the surface of the jasper shape, before its single firing. The best known jasper today is the pale blue with white relief decoration.
Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795 and inscribed on his monument in Stoke Parish church are the words “He converted the English pottery industry from a rude and inconsiderable manufactory into an elegant art and an important part of the national commerce”.
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