Wedgwood online catalogue

This is an online version of Robin Emmerson's book 'Wedgwood at the Lady Lever Art Gallery', published by National Museums Liverpool in 1995.

Wedgwood tablet with horse and carriage design

Jasper tablet of 'The Fall of Phaeton', about 1780

The Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight contains works of art owned by its founder, William Hesketh Lever, first Lord Leverhulme (1851 - 1925) including one of the world's great Wedgwood collections. The core of his Wedgwood material was originally assembled in the middle of the 19th century by Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, first Lord Tweedmouth (1820 - 1894), and purchased in its entirety by Lever in 1905.

The Tweedmouth collection includes major pieces bought from the naturalist Charles Darwin, whose mother Susannah was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood himself. Lever was an advocate for the superiority of British art. He recognised the 18th century as the peak of refinement in English furniture, and saw Wedgwood as the equivalent in ceramics.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730 - 1795) was the first British potter to win high artistic regard in his own time. He achieved this by making work which was, as he put it, 'unpot-like', changing the appearance of humble clay to resemble that of luxury materials like semi-precious stones. Staffordshire potters of the previous generation had imitated ruby, agate and tortoiseshell. Wedgwood developed this idea further with the wares he named basaltes and jasper.

Much of Wedgwood's ware has decoration in relief. The clay ornament was formed in little moulds, carefully removed and stuck to the pot with liquid clay. This technique also was developed by his predecessors. It was known in Staffordshire as 'sprigging', because the first designs applied in this way were plant sprigs, used in imitation of teaware imported from Yixing in China. Wedgwood brought the technique to perfection by such devices as undercutting the decoration once it was applied to the pot.