The English potter Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) established the Wedgwood pottery factory. His work is most associated with the neoclassic style.
Josiah Wedgwood was born in August 1730 at Burslem, Staffordshire, into a family which had been engaged in the manufacture of pottery since the 17th century. His father owned a factory called the Churchyard Pottery, and Josiah began working in this family enterprise as an apprentice in 1744. He left the factory in the early 1750s and until 1759 was engaged with various partners in the manufacture of standard types of earthenware, including salt-glaze and stoneware products and objects in the popular agate and tortoiseshell glazes. During these years he experimented with improving glazes in color, and he achieved a particularly refined green glaze.
In 1759 Wedgwood set up his own factory at Ivy House in Burslem. The Ivy House pottery was so successful that in 1764 he moved his factory to larger quarters nearby; the new factory was first known as the Brick House Works and later as the Bell House. During this period Wedgwood created his first creamware, a palecolored earthenware frequently decorated with painted or enameled designs. Wedgwood's creamware won the approval of Queen Charlotte and after about 1765 became known as "Queen's ware."
During the first half of the 18th century the prevailing taste was for the rococo, a decorative style which used sensuous and delicate colors, lavish ornament, and a complex interplay of curved lines and masses. From about the middle of the century, however, the exuberant gaiety of the rococo began gradually to be replaced by neoclassicism and a return to the comparative severity of the art of antiquity. In the early 1760s Wedgwood met Thomas Bentley, a cultivated man devoted to neoclassicism, and in 1769 they opened a factory near Burslem which was called Etruria and dedicated to the creation of ornamental pottery designed in the neoclassic manner. The factory at Bell House was retained for the production of functional tableware until the 1770s, when it was absorbed into Etruria.
The two products of the Etruria factory which became most fashionable were the basaltes and the jasperware objects. The basaltes were decorative and functional pieces made of a hard black stoneware, often with lowrelief decoration, in designs based upon antiquity. The jasperware became the most famous of the Wedgwood products and is still the pottery most associated with the Wedgwood name. Jasperware, which Wedgwood perfected about 1775, is a fine stoneware with a solid body color in blue, soft green, lavender, pink, black, or other colors and generally decorated with delicate low-relief designs in white adapted from Greek vase paintings, Roman relief sculpture, and other antique sources. Jasperware was produced in a great variety of functional and decorative objects ranging from teapots to cameos and including vases, bowls, candlesticks, and portrait reliefs.
Bentley died in 1780, and Wedgwood continued the work at Etruria, producing some of the factory's finest jasper in the late 18th century. He employed many artists to provide designs for his products and to adapt designs from classical antiquity. The most notable of these modelers was John Flaxman, a famous sculptor who supplied designs for the Etruria factory from 1775 to 1800. From 1787 Flaxman was in Rome for several years studying antique sculpture and sending Wedgwood elegant interpretations of ancient art.
Wedgwood died at Etruria on Jan. 3, 1795. His tombstone states that he "converted a rude and inconsiderable Manufactory into an elegant Art and an important part of National Commerce." The factory remains in the family and since 1810 has been known as Josiah Wedgwood and Sons. The modern factory is primarily concerned with the production of dinnerware and functional objects but continues to manufacture the jasper and basaltes that Josiah made so popular.
Further Reading on Josiah Wedgwood
An excellent account of Wedgwood's career and of the Wedgwood product in general is William B. Honey, Wedgwood Ware (1948), a brief but thorough and critical work with illustrations of high quality. Wolf Mankowitz and Reginald G. Hagger, The Concise Encyclopedia of English Pottery and Porcelain (1957), is handsomely illustrated, has an excellent bibliography, and contains basic information concerning Josiah Wedgwood and the Wedgwood family and factory. Older but still important standard biographies are Sir Arthur H. Church, Josiah Wedgwood, Master Potter (1903), and William Burton, Josiah Wedgwood and His Pottery (1922). Also useful is Wolf Mankowitz, Wedgwood (1953).
Additional Biography Sources
Burton, Anthony, Josiah Wedgwood: a biography, London: A. Deutsch, 1976.
Reilly, Robin, Josiah Wedgwood 1730-1795, London: Macmillan, 1992.