Josiah Wedgwood and Neo-classicism

The changes that were under way during the 18th century in the field of ideas, the arts  and consumer taste - changes that were dominated by a love of everything that revived classical culture, or neo-classicism - were extremely interesting to Josiah Wedgwood. He was quick to realize the commercial potential of embracing the style in his designs and began manufacturing a range of wares created ‘in the antique manner'. 

The fashion for the new styles was timely, coinciding precisely with the development of Josiah's business. His new Etruria factory, inaugurated in 1769, immediately began producing vases emulating classical discoveries. Indeed, the name he chose - ‘Etruria' - reflected the mistaken belief that the antiquities at the time being unearthed in Italy were Etruscan. The vases thrown to mark the factory's opening - the First Day's Vases - bore the title Artes Etruriae Renascuntur, meaning the Arts of Etruria are Re-born. In fact, the classical antiquities recently discovered were from several centuries later, dating from Roman times, but the factory's name remained.

The rococo swags used on Wedgwood's creamware vases and the romantic or Chinoiserie decorations applied to his useful wares in the 1760s were soon supplanted by beading, fluting and applied decoration, facilitated by the introduction of improving equipment and talented artists at the new factory. Josiah studied the new fashion using his extensive library of books published to illustrate classical sources. He worked tirelessly to discover new ceramic bodies, on the assumption that the public would soon require more of him than just his creamware - black basalt, jasper and other stonewares were the result of his experiments and they guaranteed him huge success and great fame.

Assisted by the innate taste and keen business acumen of his partner, Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood created wares to embellish the interiors of neo-classical houses designed by the leading architects of the day: plaques and medallions in jasper, vases and urns in a range of bodies, shapes and sizes, black basalt portrait busts to adorn libraries. He made cameos to embellish a vast range of domestic objects, gentlemen's coats and equipment, ladies' jewellery and bibelots. For all these he employed a team of artists, either as painters or modellers in his workshops, or as free-lance contributors.