Modelling in the late 1770s
By late 1777, Hackwood had committed a major transgression. Wedgwood had previously extolled Hackwood’s virtues, stating he wished that he had “half a dozn. More Hackwoods”, but in December 1777 Wedgwood wrote, “I cannot resist the temptation of allowing my dear friend our new Shakespeare & Garrick though they are not so well fired as they should be . . . you will see by looking under the shoulder of each that these heads are modeled by Wm Hackwood . . .”. Wedgwood was in a dilemma about this. On the one hand he writes “. . . I shall prevent his exposing himself again now I have found it out.” But immediately afterwards he reconsiders: “I am not certain that he will not be offended if he is refus’d the liberty of putting his name to the models which he makes quite new, & shall be glad to have your opinion upon the subject. Mine is against any name being upon our articles besides W & B, & if you concur with me I will manage the matter with him as well as I can.”
It is clear from the many portrait medallion subjects which can be attributed to Hackwood’s hand that his forte was indeed in modelling. One exceptionally fine subject was probably dear to Josiah’s own heart, as well as to the rest of the Wedgwood family. The redoubtable William Willet (c.1698-1778), Unitarian minister at Newcastle-under-Lyme, had married one of Josiah’s sisters, Catherine. As early as February 1776 fears were being expressed for his health, and despite his rallying for a period of a few months, by July of the same year Wedgwood was having to advise Bentley, “I send you this Head of Mr. Willet as a specimen of Hackwoods Portrait modelling. A stronger likeness can, scarcely, be conceiv’d. You may keep it as the shadow of a good Man who is marching with hasty strides towards the Land of forgetfulness”. As well as indirectly complimenting Hackwood’s modeling abilities, the letter clearly reveals how dear to Wedgwood’s own heart this venerable gentleman was. The superbly modeled countenance of Willet shows considerable determination, and he was to surprise the entire Wedgwood family by surviving for nearly two further years, until May 1778, despite Josiah’s gloomy prognosis!
Another superb portrait medallion, possibly produced at the private request of Josiah himself, was that of Edward Bourne. “Old Bourne,” as Josiah fondly referred to him, was a bricklayer at the Etruria factory. Depicted with the tool of his trade, a bricklayer’s trowel, his likeness was modelled by Hackwood in 1778. Josiah observed in a letter endorsed by Bentley, “Rec’d. 21 Novr. 1778,” “Old Bourne is the man himself with every wrinkle, crink & cranny in the whole visage”. On the trowel itself the minute initials “EB” appear, and despite the Wedgwood’s earlier edict, the initials “WH” appear on the truncation below the shoulder. Hackwood’s skill in three-dimensional work was also remarkable. In addition to “finishing” countless models of busts and figures supplied by the London “plaister” shops which included Hoskins and Grant as well as John Flaxman Senior, Hackwood was more capable of creating independently modelled works.
The Seasons candlesticks have long been ascribed to his hand. An entry in a volume contained in the Wedgwood Museum archive would now seem to confirm this attribution. It features a drawing in the form of a rough sketch of one of the candlesticks and below that, a penned note that not only gives the correct title, but also specifically attributes the work. The entry reads, “Pair of figure candles Cupid & Psyche with ivy Model’d by Mr Hackwood.” This is one of the very few contemporary written observations in the factory records which give a relatively firm attribution. Though these are known today as “Seasons” candlesticks, the description and sketch leave no doubt that one candlestick was originally called Cupid, the other Psyche.
Another ceramic masterpiece in the creation of which Hackwood was directly involved was the celebrated Portland or Barberini vase. Again, the surviving Wedgwood letters detail the fact that many artists and modellers assisted in producing an accurate copy in jasper of the cameo-glass original. Henry Webber, assisted by William Wood (another long-serving employee who worked for Josiah from 1767 until his death in 1808), and the omnipresent William Hackwood, all strove to fulfil Wedgwood’s expectations. The famous “First Edition” copies of the Portland vase in jasper pay silent but eloquent testimony to the skills of all the craftsmen involved.