Thursday, July 15, 2010

All About Wedgwood, Part V, Author Unknown

The Manufacture of Wedgwood Basalt

In 1767 Wedgwood turned his attention to the manufacture of black basalt or Egyptian black ware. This had already been made in a crude form in Staffordshire, but Wedgwood brought it to a high degree of perfection. It is so hard that it will strike fire with steel, and yet is smooth and velvety in appearance and to the touch. Bits of it are still used as touchstones by jewelers. In texture it is perfect, fine in grain and rich in its soft blackness probably the most solid pottery ever produced. The real Wedgwood basalt never shows waviness or crazing. It proved to be a splendid ware, not only in plain black, as in most of the tea-sets, but for seals, intaglios, busts, statuettes, plaques, medallions, and as a background for bas-reliefs and encaustic painting.

Some of the basalt tea and coffee sets were painted in colors, but these are not generally as fine as the plain black ones. The latter were usually decorated with raised work in flutings, basket effects, and relief figures, generally Classic in form. This relief work is perfect in its minutest details, even under a magnifying glass. The edges of the raised figures were often slightly undercut to give an absolutely sharp relief.

The finest basalt, however, is found in the vases. The first basalt vases were made in 1768. Up to 1780 they were rather simply decorated. At first they were plain, smooth black. In 1769 festoons in white were applied occasionally. From 1769 to 1786 the ornamentation consisted chiefly in black relief flutings, strap work, borders, festoons, Classic figures, etc., with handles in the form of masks, dolphins, goats' heads, satyrs, etc.

It is interesting to note the Classic forms and motifs used in pottery of this period, in that this was the age of Classic decorations in architecture and furniture, generally known as the Adam period, which ran from 1760 to 1790. Rams' heads and feet, and satyrs, were frequently, almost generally, used as ornaments on furniture at this period.

This class of vases formed a considerable proportion of the output of Wedgwood & Bentley. About 1776 more elaborate and beautiful figures in basrelief were applied, many of them of rare Classic charm, like Flaxman's "Dancing Hours." The surface was less highly polished during this later period, and these vases are considered superior even to the more striking jasper-ware by many connoisseurs. From 1780 to 1795 painted basalt vases were made in imitation of antique Greek and Etruscan painted vases and other vessels.

In basalt were also made ewers for water and wine, mugs, inkstands, salt-cellars, flower pots, and other practical articles, as well as medallions, plaques, and portrait cameos. These last will be considered more at length later.

Pictured above: Wedgwood Basalt Bud Vase, Lady Templeton Design, Circa 1880 or prior, available at our Mall Store at: Wedgwood Basalt Bud Vase.

Penny and Doug
Penny's Antiques & Wedgwood Pantry

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"[T]he importance of piety and religion; of industry and frugality; of prudence, economy, regularity and an even government; all ... are essential to the well-being of a family." --Samuel Adams, letter to Thomas Wells, 1780

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