Friday, May 31, 2013

Wedgwood Blues

Most often, I dine on simple, white, rather indestructible plates we bought when our sons were small. I do have a fancier set of china, blue and white, for special occasions.  But what I dream of owning is what many of the aristocracy dined on, buttoned themselves up with, and decorated their homes with in nineteenth century England--Wedgwood.

In the nineteenth century, Wedgwood was synonymous with stoneware and china made by potter Josiah Wedgwood and his sons and partners. He was a man of rare vision and talent, developing new types of pottery called black basalt and jasperware. He had a way of putting white relief on a colored background.  His work so impressed Queen Charlotte that she gave him permission to call a creamy colored version queen’s ware. And his innovations in the pottery process so impressed the Royal Society that they elected him a member to sit among the scientists.
I had always thought Wedgwood jasperware was blue (in fact, the exact color is often called Wedgwood blue), but I recently learned it came in a variety of colors as well, including jade, lavender, yellow, black, terra cotta, and white.  At the time, ancient art from Rome, Greece, and Egypt was all the rage, so it wasn’t surprising that Wedgwood decided to copy the designs.  He was even willing to put silhouettes of his clients into the pieces.  He hired artists like George Stubbs and John Flaxman to create designs for him. Wedgwood’s work was so popular, it was used for jewelry, furniture, wall moldings, and even buttons. 

I was further intrigued to find that two of his artists were ladies, at a time when it was relatively rare for a woman to be recognized and paid for her art. Elizabeth Upton, Lady Templetown, was the wife of an Irish peer and quoted for her taste.  You can see some of her work at the Victoriaand Albert Museum in London.   Emma Crewe was called an “amateur,” yet she provided art for Wedgwood and illustrated books.  Her work was also called charming, except she was criticized in one case for making the lady appear too voluptuous!  Some of her pieces are on exhibit at the Harvard Art Museum.   

Whoever did the art, Wedgwood’s pottery and china were widely acclaimed.  Today, Wedgwood pieces are found in nearly every museum of note and grace tables from the White House to the Kremlin.  Not, ahem, mine.


QNPoohBear said...

Those Wedgewood pieces are gorgeous. We dine on IKEA in this house but we do have fine china that came from my grandparents' (long closed) jewelery store. Did you know Josiah Wedgewood was Charles Darwin's grandfather? Emma Darwin was also a granddaughter and cousin to her husband.

Regina Scott said...

I saw there was a connection between Wedgwood and Darwin, but I didn't realize it was that close. Thanks!

Marissa Doyle said...

Back in my student days I got to visit the Wedgwood factory and the back rooms of the Pottery Museum at Stoke-on-Trent with one of the curators giving us a tour...and when working in historical archaeology labs in college, Queensware was a common find.

Regina Scott said...

They are lovely, Chinese Painting. Thanks for commenting!

And Marissa, I am greener than the Wedgwood in envy over your opportunities! How cool to be given a tour by the curators.