Wedgwood – The Most Important English Potteries

A set of six Wedgwood blue printed plates
A set of six Wedgwood blue printed plates, circa 1820

I was delighted when the news broke last week that the internationally important ‘Wedgwood Collection’, housed at the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke, had been saved for the nation at a cost of £15.75 million. The final £2.74 million was raised through the Art Fund by public appeal in just a month.

A Wedgwood creamware pierced oval dish
A Wedgwood creamware pierced oval dish, late 18th century

The Wedgwood Collection, one of the most important industrial archives in the world, has been saved, thanks to the generosity of thousands of individuals, businesses and a number of grant-making foundations.

A Wedgwood black basalt combined bough-pot and pastille burner, 19th century
Detail of a Wedgwood black basalt combined bough-pot and pastille burner, 19th century

The seeds of the collection were sown by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95), who in 1774 expressed an aspiration to preserve examples of the objects created by the Wedgwood pottery which bears his name. Josiah Wedgwood’s inventiveness combined his artistic taste and scientific knowledge with a gift for administration and business acumen. He took the manufacture of ceramics to extraordinary heights. These qualities have led many art historians to claim that he was the most distinguished English potter of his age. His reputation was certainly international. Amongst his patrons were the British Royal Family, Catherine the Great of Russia, the Queen of France and the King of Naples.

His early appreciation of Neo-Classicism and his eye for young artists with real ability, like John Flaxman and George Stubbs, enabled him to produce ceramics which fitted with this style and decoration. There was an industrial, modern efficiency in the way that he organised his factory and by 1782 he was employing the use of steam power.

The simple, elegant patterns of Wedgwood’s cream-coloured earthenware appealed to buyers with a taste for Neo-Classicism. In honour of the factory’s patron, Queen Charlotte, these wares became known as Queen’s Ware. These creamwares were painted, like the late 18th century pierced oval dish illustrated, delicately enamelled with groups of shells and seaweed, or transfer-decorated, like the plates seen here, generously decorated with passion flowers, geranium and iris within borders of convolvulus.

A pair of Wedgwood two colour jasperware cups and saucers
A pair of Wedgwood two colour jasperware cups and saucers, late 18th century
A Wedgwood pale blue jasper dip 'Pegasus' vase and cover
A Wedgwood pale blue jasper dip 'Pegasus' vase and cover, circa 1871, decorated after George Flaxman’s The Apotheosis of Homer

The Wedgwood pottery became famous for its vitreous stonewares. The first of these was the red stoneware examples known as ‘rosso antico’. By 1769 the black basalt wares were in production, like the early 19th century black basalt combined bough pot and pastille burner shown here. In this detail you will note the Neo-Classical decorative motif of the band of anthemion sprays. Anthemion is, of course, honeysuckle in the modern vernacular, such a romantic flower. From 1774 Jasper Ware, the most famous of these vitreous wares, was being made. These pieces, with their exquisite forms and white, classical relief decorations against blue, green, lavender or yellow grounds, delight in their bold restraint. The beautiful proportions and forms were often copied from ancient Greek examples of vases, which were defined as Etruscan at that time. Indeed, the Wedgwood factory’s name, Etruria, was taken from this term. The pair of Wedgwood two-colour jasperware cups and saucers date from the late 18th century. The Wedgwood pale blue jasper dip ‘Pegasus’ vase and cover is later, dating from around 1871. It is ornamented in white with The Apotheosis of Homer, after the artist Flaxman. The square pale blue jasper base is decorated with classical maidens, each canted corner relief decorated with winged mythical beasts.

Leading factories such as Meissen, Sèvres and Vienna were amongst Wedgwood’s imitators.

Today examples like those illustrated can be bought at auction for between £50 and £2000, whilst the rarest and finest examples realise vastly higher sums.

Josiah Wedgwood was a man of liberal and humanitarian views, a supporter of the American Revolution and an advocate for the abolition of slavery.

The ‘Wedgwood Collection’ preserves this unique record of British history and global commerce in one place. It contains over 80,000 works of art, ceramics, manuscripts and letters, pattern books and photographs covering the 250-year history of Wedgwood. The Collection will soon be gifted to the V&A and remain on display at the Wedgwood Museum.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: ‘This amazing show of public support for the Wedgwood Collection has made this the fastest fundraising campaign in the Art Fund’s 111-year history. It demonstrates nothing less than a national passion for Wedgwood – its history, its quality, its brand, its continuity…’

The ‘Wedgwood Collection’ represents Wedgwood’s extraordinary legacy and position in British industrial and art history.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th October 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Comes to Sussex

Late 19th century oil on canvas by J.B. Allen depicting The Boat Race, London
Late 19th century oil on canvas by J.B. Allen depicting The Boat Race, London

This coming Sunday, 6th April 2014, the 160th annual Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race will be held. The Boat Race was first held in 1829, making this one of the oldest surviving sporting events in the world. The second Boat Race took place in 1836 in London, where it has been held ever since.

The competition began as a challenge between two old school friends, Charles Merivale and Charles Wordsworth, the nephew of the famous poet William Wordsworth. Today it has become an important fixture in the English sporting calendar and one which underlines the international and outward-looking qualities of the English at their best. The crews fielded by Oxford and Cambridge often reflect the global standing of these universities, whose students and oarsmen come from across the world.

Over the years I have increasingly found myself in London, invited to value and sell important collections by their owners. It was during a recent day spent in Sheen, near Richmond, that I discovered this marvellous 19th century oil painting of the Boat Race by J.B. Allen. It struck me as rather wonderful that it was residing near the very shores of the Thames where Allen depicted the view, between Putney and Mortlake.

In this Victorian scene the crowds are so numerous that they have taken to boats in order to get a better view of the crews as they row by. Arms and hats are raised as the excited spectators cheer their chosen team onwards. There is a cold wind blowing, causing flags to flutter. The greys and blues in the artist’s palette remind us that Easter is approaching and spring is only just arriving. Though less finely painted, the panorama of the crowds is reminiscent of that great Victorian painter William Powell Frith, who painted ‘The Derby Day’ between 1856 and 1858. In a similar way to Powell, J.B. Allen depicts a series of very personal vignettes within the grand sweep of his Boat Race scene: boatmen steady ladies in their boats; gentlemen point towards the action and cheers go up amongst different parties of people. It is a painting which is alive and still creates excitement in us today. I am pleased to say that this oil on canvas subsequently came to Sussex to Toovey’s and was auctioned in our fine art sale on 26th March 2014 for £10,500.

Wedgwood earthenware bowl, designed by Eric Ravilious, circa 1938, the interior decorated with a scene of Piccadilly Circus at night
Wedgwood earthenware bowl, designed by Eric Ravilious, circa 1938, the exterior decorated with the Boat Race Day pattern

Around 1938 the Sussex artist Eric Ravilious provided an alternative view of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in his designs for Wedgwood. Known as the Boat Race Day pattern, the exterior of this bowl depicts three successive scenes from the race and a mermaid device. Again, the numerous crowds are depicted cheering in the foreground, their arms raised in excitement, but the stylized scene appears as a moment captured outside of time, as is often the case with Ravilious’ work. The interior of the bowl shows Piccadilly Circus at night. Today at auction, a Boat Race Day pattern bowl would realise between £800 and £1200.

This Sunday at 12.00 noon, between church and lunch, millions of us will be cheering on our team. We will be held in the moment as the drama unfolds on our televisions or before us from the banks of the Thames. We will be caught up in the atmosphere and mood of celebration of this most English of sporting events, celebrating the highest standards of amateur sportsmanship, captured with such life by J.B. Allen more than an hundred years ago.

Advice on your paintings is freely available from Toovey’s; contact us to make an appointment with our fine art specialists.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 2nd April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.