Wedgwood Jasperware

By Karen Parr-Moody

 

Jasperware is one of those materials that Wedgwood has produced with grand extensiveness since 1774. Yet, to paraphrase Shakespeare, time cannot wither its infinite variety.

 

As created by the ever-innovative potter Josiah Wedgwood – who was once scornfully dubbed a “cripple” but nonetheless went on to become rich and famous – jasperware is a matte, unglazed stoneware that resembles biscuit porcelain. Naturally white, jasperware can be tinted into gorgeous pastel colors, including the pale blue for which Wedgwood is known.

 

Currently at GasLamp Too, Booth T-140 features a wide array of blue and green Wedgwood jasperware, of which the teapot in the photo, above right, is just one example.

 

This charming teapot marked the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the year in which it was created. It is made of pale blue jasperware and was one of many such commemorative pieces that came forth from the Wedgwood factory in England in the 20th century ($134). Other jasperware pieces from the 1953 coronation include the 1953 commemorative cigarette box, the pentefoil box and the round scalloped box.

 

(Beyond jasperware commemorative pieces from Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation, collectors highly prize the Wedgwood ‘Persephone’ bone china designed in 1936 by Eric Ravilious. This pattern was not of a commemorative make but was actually created, with the royal cipher, specifically for the 1953 Coronation Banquet service. A total of one thousand two hundred pieces were supplied.)

 

The commemorative teapot features white relief molded decoration of a leaf and berry border along with a beautiful portrait medallion of Queen Elizabeth II on one side and The Duke of Edinburgh on the other (the photo, left, features his portrait). The ribbon below each portrait features raised, molded lettering; one says “HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II JUNE 1953” while the other says “HRH DUKE OF EDINBURGH.”

 

The story of Josiah Wedgwood is a true rags-to-riches tale. Born into a family of poor English potters, he learned the trade as a young child and went on to strike the perfect balance of artist and businessman.

 

As a child, Wedgwood had a diseased leg (it was eventually amputated); this prevented him from being as physically agile a potter as he might otherwise have been. However, this lack of physicality moved Wedgwood to concentrate on design, which became a distinguishing characteristic of the Josiah Wedgwood and Sons company he founded in 1759. At his death, Wedgwood was worth hundreds of millions in today’s money. (This legacy would ultimately help fund the study of evolution by Wedgwood’s grandson, English naturalist Charles Darwin.)

 

What distinguishes Wedgwood’s jasperware, beyond the matte earthenware, is the neoclassical style of the typically white ornaments that were applied to the bodies of each piece. With an unerring eye for fine tastes, Wedgwood used designs taken from antiquity, including the famous Roman Portland Vase (which some scholars date to about AD 5-25, while others date as far back as 30-20 BC). He produced his “inspired by” version of the Portland Vase in 1790 with a material he called black basalt and the vase remains a hallmark of Wedgwood works (the photo, above right, is the Wedgwood version of the Portland Vase while the image on the left is of the original).

 

These relief ornaments, which were made separately in molds and applied to jasperware, represented the full figures of Roman satyrs, cupids, gods and goddesses. Others were simply cameos. Wedgwood hired the finest artists of the day to create these designs, including the painter Lady Elizabeth Templeton and sculptor John Flaxman.

 

The photo, right, is of a Flaxman vase from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Originally designed when Flaxman was active (he lived from 1755 to 1826), this particular piece was produced in 1870 from the Wedgwood’s Etruria factory in the Staffordshire region of England. The vase features applied medallions of cupids made of chocolate-colored jasper. These are connected by festoons of vine, and there is a wreath with four satyrs’ heads in relief in white. 

 

Wedgwood enjoyed many achievements in his lifetime. Always an outlier, he was a staunch abolitionist. In 1787, he created a jasperware medallion that featured a black applied relief of a kneeling slave with the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother?” (photo, left). The figure was modelled after the seal for the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and Wedgwood sent medallions to Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania in 1788. These medallions were worn by supporters of abolition with aplomb; women would hang one from their necks or pin them in their hair.

 

Wedgwood Jasperware was imitated in other European factories, including Sèvres in France. And while imitation is a form of flatter, the real thing is better. In his youth, Josiah was written off, but Wedgwood as a company lives on to this day.

 

 

 

 

 

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