Lady Lever Gallery – Artwork of the Month – October, 2007
‘Vasemania’, by Wedgwood and Bentley
About the artwork
Wedgwood wrote a letter in 1769 describing the stampede of buyers at his London showroom: ‘There was no getting to the door for Coaches, nor into the rooms for Ladies and Gentlemen and … Vases was all the cry.’ He had only recently started making vases. Why were they selling faster than he could make them?
It had been the fashion to decorate rooms with vases – especially Chinese porcelain vases – for at least a century. In the 1690s William III’s Queen Mary displayed Chinese blue and white vases in great clumps, on the tops of Chinese lacquer cabinets, filling all the space on top. Later, in the middle of the 18th century, English porcelain factories opened, and made vases in the curly Rococo style of the day.
Wedgwood began making vases in a style quite different from previous English ceramics. This was his first major venture into making ceramics for interior decoration. Before this he had been basically a tableware manufacturer, but he spotted an opening in the market for decorative wares of a type that nobody else in England was making.
In the 1760s the fashionable style of interior decoration was changing. The leading architects Robert and James Adam, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Chambers all created novel interiors inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. This new fashion was a big contrast to the previous Rococo style, which suddenly looked awkward and outdated.
Free gallery talk Tuesday 30 October, 13.00, Room 3