• Since Josiah I’s earliest fascination with nature, the natural world has proved to be a source of constant inspiration for the craftspeople and designers of Josiah Wedgwood & Sons.

Wedgwood and Nature

  • by the Wedgwood Museum team

Nautilus desssert service - sauce tureen, cover & stand

Theme

Josiah pursued his amateur hobby of shell collecting, or conchology, with immense enthusiasm and enjoyment. He wrote to his business partner and friend Thomas Bentley in September 1778 that ‘…firmly believing idleness to be one of the seven-teen deadly sins …I have got my face over a shell drawer and find myself in imminent danger of becoming a connoisseur. You can scarcely conceive the progress I have made in a month or two in the deep & very elaborate science of shell-fancying.’ 

In the late eighteenth century all manner of marine ornaments including shells and sea creatures, whether real or inspired by mythology, were being used as decorative motifs on furniture and ceramics. Shell and seaweed designs feature in Josiah’s early pattern books, and his interest in the subject is shown by the many shell forms he made throughout his working life. In the late 1780s Wedgwood produced this exquisite Nautilus dessert service. It comprised dishes, plates and centre-pieces modelled after ‘nature’s own artworks’ such as nautilus and scallop shells. The models described by Wedgwood as ‘…those beautiful mansions’ were made in Queen’s ware, and hand-decorated with border pattern number 341 ‘New brown & blue flower, red dots’.

Later generations of the family also delighted in producing shell forms and patterns. This ongoing interest proved the enduring qualities of shells as a decorative form in ceramic production.

Catalogue

Josiah Wedgwood had many interests - but conchology, or shell-collecting, really fired his imagination. His close observations of these natural forms directly inspired him, and later generations, to produce shapes and surface decoration inspired by what he called these '...beautiful mansions.' Some of these shell shapes have been in production for nearly two and a half centuries.