“Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense” – Josiah Wedgwood
In a career that lasted over 40 years and fundamentally spurred the industrialization of the manufacturing of stoneware, Josiah Wedgwood and his factory achieved perfection in ceramic art.
When people think about ceramics and pottery, they tend to only think in simpler terms: jugs and mugs made from earthen clay. However, the range and sophistication of ceramics reaches far beyond that and it was Josiah Wedgwood who changed that notion with his invention of the famous jasperware. A first viewing of Wedgwood’s jasperware typically elicits a reaction of awe. Lots or little previous knowledge of the medium aside, there’s no denying jasperware’s incomparable elegance and impact in the decorative arts.
No other type of stoneware more accurately reflects the perfection that Josiah achieved than his invention of jasperware, named after the natural mineral jasper. The result of several thousand individual experiments, jasperware techniques were introduced to the public in 1775 and it was groundbreaking in the field of ceramic art and style. Some even describe this stoneware art form as the most important development in ceramics since the Chinese discovered porcelain some 1,000 years earlier. After perfecting the technique of crafting wares out of this new material, Wedgwood opted to adorn the surfaces with stark-white Classical motifs, giving it what we know today as the “Wedgwood look.”
Wedgwood produced jasperware in approximately 30 different colors, ranging from it's signature pale blue, to more vibrant hues of crimson, sage and royal blue jasperware. With the vast number of jasper pieces produced by Wedgwood, it is easy to distinguish between them all by the multitude of colors possible in this new-found medium. More than that, color is also one of the main contributing factors in determining the value of Wedgwood jasperware. And, in addition to the various Wedgwood marks, it can also play a part in identifying the age of a particular piece as colors tended to vary slightly over the years. Of course, while condition and shape also play a part in a piece’s value, some colors just simply demand higher prices than others. The rarity of the color, or the complexity of multi-color pieces, can all drive prices higher.
Here we explore a collection of some of Wedgwood's more popular, or historically significant colors, and offer some insight on the history of each color. Let’s navigate the briefing below to learn the basics behind the colors of of Josiah Wedgwood's renowned Jasperware.
This calm, light blue English pottery may be described as an iconic staple in Wedgwood jasperware. From its development, early on in Josiah’s experimentations and into the contemporary period, this matte blue finsh has remained a recognizable Wedgwood signature worldwide among Wedgwood collectors everywhere. Importantly, older pieces of pale blue are distinguishable from its modern descendants because of they have a deeper hue that offers a greater contrast to the white reliefs that adorn it. Today, it is considered the flagship color of Wedgwood pottery and remains popular with collectors.
Perhaps the most exotic, this color allows the greatest contrast between the classical white relief ornamentation and the dark, rich body of the Wedgwood ceramics. Produced in various spurts beginning in 1878, it was abandoned in 1977.
Black Jasper should not be confused with another of Wedgwood's innovations: Black Basalt. This earlier material, introduced in 1768, is considered one of Josiah Wedgwood's most revolutionary creations. Noted for it's exceptionally fine texture and depth of color, this rich, smooth stoneware with decoration was especially suitable for casting and was used for a myriad of items, including vases, urns, and remarkable sculptural forms.
This color is quite variable, ranging from a bright lively blue to very dark navy. In most collector’s books, the clear majority of Wedgwood pieces pictured fall in this color category. This is no surprise: up until the very end of jasper production, dark blue was by far the most popular and best-selling color.
Red is considered the rarest and the most darling of colors. Only produced in a short window of time, it’s extremely hard to find pieces of this variety. Initially introduced into Josiah’s repertoire of different colors in the late 1880s, its short production was suspended by 1910. Discontinued due to its difficulty in craft (color bleeding was the main culprit), the number of unacceptable pieces from the kiln made this color unprofitable. Because of the small number produced, this color is highly collectible on the market. In recent years, this color demands the highest prices, with even insignificant shapes taking ten times the price of significant shape in a different color.
Just like other color varieties, this tri-color variation starts from the same white base. Differing, these pieces feature two or three different colors. Whereas different colors demand different treatments, to successfully apply different ones is an extraordinary feat. The lavish appearance of this variety not only displays great creativity on Josiah’s part, but a high level of craftsmanship not witnessed before. Naturally, these sell for much higher prices than most single color pieces. And, in many instances, this variety is as valuable as crimson and are eagerly sought after by collectors.
Produced in various stages from the late 18th century first decade of the 20th century, this color varies enormously. Pieces in this color category can range from delicate purplish-pink in the earlier stages of production to a truer lavender color in the later periods.
Among the various shades of green that the Wedgwood factory produced, it is the lighter variety, sage, that attracted the most attention and is seen most often. At the end of the 20th century, a darker, richer olive green was introduced into Wedgwood ware. However, like the crimson variety, this color was easily subject to color bleeding and therefore was only produced during a short window of time.
In the years after the development of jasperware, the importance of Wedgwood ware is still far reaching. Undeniably, Wedgwood’s early experimentations were a turning point in the industry. With their unmistakable designs and forms, the different colors of Wedgwood ceramics continue to enthrall antique collectors and consumers alike.