The history of Wedgwood china patterns

Written by maggie craig
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The history of Wedgwood china patterns
Josiah Wedgwood created these famous china patterns. (Getty creative)

If you think of Wedgwood China, you'll probably think of Jasperware. That's what the classic Wedgwood pots, plates, plaques and ornaments are made from. Jasperware comes in several shades but is most familiar in the colour now called Wedgwood blue. Jasperware is traditionally decorated in white relief with Greek-style figures,woodland groves and mythological scenes.

Other Wedgwood China patterns are creamware, also known as Queen's Ware, and Black Basalt, also known as Basaltes.

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Creator of Wedgwood china patterns

Josiah Wedgwood (1730 to 1795) came from a family of potters in Staffordshire. Centred around the "Six Towns" which now comprise modern day Stoke-on-Trent, this area is still known today as The Potteries.

Josiah was particularly skilled at the potter's wheel. He was also a good businessman and a great innovator, both technically and artistically. One of his first inventions was, as "The Potteries" website puts it: "the improved green glaze which is still popular even today."

The history of Wedgwood china patterns
Josiah Wedgwood was skilled at the potter's wheel (potter image by Vitaliy from Fotolia.com)

Inspiration for Wedgwood china patterns

If you were a wealthy young man in 18th-century Europe, you went on the Grand Tour to complete your education. The cultural highlight of this journey through Europe was a visit to Rome.

What British visitors saw and sketched there inspired neoclassical architecture and design back home. This led to the building of many beautiful neoclassical buildings by architects such as Robert Adam. Josiah Wedgwood was also one of the leading lights of the neoclassical movement.

The history of Wedgwood china patterns
Rome provided inspiration for neoclassical style (ancient Rome image by jim from Fotolia.com)

The Portland Vase

Josiah Wedgwood took very direct inspiration for his Jasperware from the Portland Vase. This beautiful object is now in the British Museum in London. They describe it as "the most famous cameo-glass vessel from antiquity" and believe it to be over 2,000 years old. The vase depicts a scene showing standing and seated figures, probably illustrating a story from Greek mythology.

The Portland Vase was brought from Italy to England in 1778. The Portland family then bought it, the Duke of Portland of the time lending it to Josiah Wedgwood. The famous potter made several copies of the Portland vase itself and was inspired by it in the creation of his Jasperware.

Other Wedgwood china patterns

Queen's Ware was one of Josiah Wedgwood's first great successes. It was creamy coloured, simply decorated and durable, making it ideal tableware. Queen's Ware sold well, giving Josiah the financial base from which to make his innovations in china design and manufacture.

Black Basalt again took its inspiration from the ancient world, sometimes being called Egyptian ware. Josiah Wedgwood used it not for crockery but to make vases, candlesticks and busts of famous people from history.

The history of Wedgwood china patterns
Josiah Wedgwood took inspiration from Ancient Egypt too (Pyramids at Ghiza Egypt image by Sean Wallace-Jones from Fotolia.com)

Fun fact

Josiah Wedgwood's daughter Susannah was the mother of Charles Darwin, author of "On the Origin of Species."

Expert insight

The Wedgwood Company continues to make Queen's Ware, Black Basalt and Jasperware products today. These traditional china products can be seen at permanent exhibitions in the Wedgwood Visitor Centre and the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent in England.

The Wedgwood Museum also has an excellent website with many illustrations of Wedgwood China patterns.

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