Wedgwood, Josiah

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Wedgwood, Josiah,

1730–95, English potter, descendant of a family of Staffordshire potters and perhaps the greatest of all potters. At the age of nine he went to work at the plant owned by his brother Thomas in Burslem, and in 1751, with a partner, he started in business. In 1753 he joined Thomas Whieldon of Fenton, then one of the foremost potters of Staffordshire, and in 1759 Wedgwood started his own business at the Ivy House Works, Burslem. He obtained a site near Stoke-on-Trent, where he built a village called Etruria for his workers and opened a new works in 1769. In that year he took into partnership Thomas Bentley, who remained a valuable ally until his death in 1780. At Etruria, Wedgwood specialized in ornamental products to supplement the utilitarian wares of Burslem. Wedgwood entered the field of pottery at a time when it was still a backward and minor industry and by his skill, taste, and organizing abilities transformed it into one of great importance and enormous aesthetic appeal. He combined experiments in his art and in the technique of mass production with an interest in improved roads, canals, schools, and living conditions for workers.

Wedgwood soon acquired a reputation for his cream-colored earthenware, known as queen's ware, and at the same time produced decorative objects, candlesticks, and vases of a black composition known as basalt or Egyptian stoneware. He also produced a mottled and veined ware in imitation of granite and a translucent, smooth, unglazed semiporcelain. This gave way to his best-known product, jasper ware, best known in a delicate blue with white, cameolike Greek figures embossed upon it (see Portland vasePortland vase,
a Roman glass vase, known also as the Barberini vase. It is an unusually fine work of the late Augustan era (early 1st cent. B.C.). About 10 in. (25 cm) high and 22 in.
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), which has been in continuous production since 1774. He invented and perfected this ware and in it gave expression to the interest of his day in the revival of classical art. He employed the best talent available for his finer pieces, many of which were designed by John FlaxmanFlaxman, John,
1755–1826, English sculptor and draftsman. At 20 he went to work for Josiah Wedgwood, designing the cameolike decorations for Wedgwood's pottery. Later, in Rome, he devoted himself to sculpture and produced outline figure drawings from Greek vases as
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. Wedgwood's terra-cottas of various hues were made with one color in relief upon another. He produced exquisite wares for many royal and noble patrons, including a dinner service for Catherine the Great. His work is found in many museums and private collections; the Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Mass., has an outstanding collection. He also published several pamphlets, and his Address to the Young Inhabitants of the Pottery appeared in 1783. For his invention of a pyrometer for measuring temperatures, Wedgwood was made a fellow of the Royal Society (1783). The extensive potteries he established, which he built into a large, worldwide commercial empire, were perpetuated by his descendants.


See W. Mankowitz, Wedgwood (1953); A. Kelly, The Story of Wedgwood (1962); E. Meteyard, The Life of Josiah Wedgwood (1865, repr. 1970); B. Dolan, Wedgwood: The First Tycoon (2004).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wedgwood, Josiah


Born July 12, 1730, in Burslem, Staffordshire; died Jan. 3, 1795, in Etruria, near Burslem. English pottery designer and manufacturer. One of the leading representatives of classicist decorative applied arts.

The son of a potter, Wedgwood worked in Stoke-on-Trent from 1752 and in Burslem from 1759. In 1769 he built the village of Etruria and its ceramic-ware factory. Wedgwood invented and perfected various types of high-quality ware, including basaltes, jasperware, and cream-colored ware known as queensware. His factory, which employed the sculptor and artist J. Flaxman, produced ware of severe form, decorative furniture ornaments, and plaquettes primarily from jasper stoneware clay of pastel blue, light green, violet, or black color and with white reliefs in the Roman style.


Honey, W. B. Wedgwood Ware. London [1956].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.