Friday 12 July 2013

Josiah Wedgwood, Queen's Potter

Josiah Wedgwood (Burslem, Staffordshire, England, 12th July 1730 - Etruria, Staffordshire, England, 3rd January 1795)

Portrait of Josiah Wedgwood by Joshua Reynolds
Josiah Wedgwood by Sir Joshua Reynolds

I shall never forget the night that the Prince of Wales, in his cups and demonstrating a most enthusiastic waltz in the parlour, collided with the eldest of we Gilflurt sisters. The violent collision caused her to drop her tea tray,  resulting in a calamitous loss of mother Gilflurt's finest Wedgwood service. Georgie made it up to both mother and sister in his own way and we still have the country lodge to show for it, but I thought the end of the world was upon us, such a scream did my sister send up.

In recognition of that night and the genius of the potter who created some of the finest works England has ever seen, today we are celebrating the birthday of Josiah Wedgwood, late of Burslem, Staffs.

The son of potter, Thomas Wedgwood, Josiah joined the family business at the age of nine as an apprentice to his elder brother at Churchyard Works. His training was put on hold two years later when the boy was hit with smallpox and had no choice but to take to his bed, where he passed the long hours reading and studying his craft. His return to work was fired by a sense of ambition and inspiration and he moved from Graveyard Works to Fenton Vivian as the partner of Thomas Whieldon, one of the country's most respected potters. Here he enhanced and developed his knowledge of ceramics and glazes, learning skills and techniques which would have a huge influence on his later work.

Wedgwood finally went into business for himself in 1759 and in 1763 patented a cream glaze that caught the eye of the Queen of England, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and she commissioned so much of it that it became known as Queen's Ware, eventually appointing him as Queen's Potter in 1762. Alongside this accolade, Wedgwood's accounts book included names such as Empress Catherine of Russia and his pottery, including innovations such as Jasperware, Creamware and Egyptian Black could soon be seen in the most illustrious houses in England. This brought other opportunities for the ambitious potter and he was heavily involved in planning and construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal, providing invaluable transport links that crossed counties.

Not content with innovations in pottery and transport, Wedgwood's social conscience saw him becoming increasingly fired by political reform and passionately supported the abolition of the slave trade. He produced pieces featuring the seal for the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade embedding the image in the public consciousness. Wedgwood campaigned for abolition until his death and the seal cameo became highly fashionable, with Benjamin Franklin commenting that the power of this simple image was "equal to that of the best written pamphlet". His other reforms included decent, if strict, working conditions in his factories, payment for those who could not work due to illness and worker housing near his newly constructed family home of Etruria Hall.

Photograph of the Wedgwood seal
The Wedgwood seal

In late 1794 Wedgwood's health deteriorated swiftly as he complained of terrible pain in his jaw; within two months the innovative potter was dead, leaving behind a body of work that endures far beyond his life. Sought-after and highly-valued today, Wedgwood's pieces retain an air of timeless, classic style and it is an honour to raise a Jasperware teacup and say, happy birthday, Josiah!

Photograph of a Wedgwood Jasperware urn
Wedgwood's iconic Jasperware
Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Blue said...

Such amazing talent to be able to create something so beautiful. That vase (?) in the photo is exquisite. I thank you, Madame, for sharing about Mr Wedgwood's life.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you, Blue; his work is so elegant, isn't it?

Unknown said...

This is a great post!!! Thank you Madame Gilflurt !!!!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you, Princess!

Mark said...

Thanks for another great article.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!

Gem Twitcher said...

Excellent,Madame!!...and the cartoons of the Gilfrurt family are still highly prized in the booksellers windows! Our other link with Mr Wedgwood is of course Lady Di?

Catherine Curzon said...

The very same!

Michelle Stanley said...

Most interesting post about a very gifted artist.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!