Josiah Wedgwood & Sons

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Keith Murray (1892—1981) architect and industrial designer



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(established 1759)

Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) founded this celebrated British pottery firm in Burslem, Staffordshire, in 1759. By the late 18th century the company's wares were widely known in fashionable circles throughout Europe, especially creamware designs in the Neoclassical style. Other important landmarks in this fashionable vein were the introduction of Black Basalt porcelain in 1768 and Jasperware in 1774, the latter being fired in the widely recognized ‘Neoclassical’ blue, as well as green, yellow, lilac, brown, and black. Neoclassicism reflected a resurgence of interest in classical antiquity sparked by a northward migration of Italian artists unsettled by declining patronage in Italy, sustained by the Grand Tour and a consequent emphasis on studies in antiquarianism and archaeology. Important also in Wedgwood's success in the 18th century was his commitment to mass produce and market goods efficiently through the division of labour and utilization of the new canal system as a means of distribution together with the use of catalogues and a London showroom to stimulate consumer interest. The 19th century was a more difficult period for the company's fortunes but the early 20th century saw a reinvigoration of the company's fortunes reflected in the establishment of a showroom in Paris in 1902. Wedgwood also attracted attention for its hand‐painted artistic wares that were overseen by Alfred and Louise Powell. Furthermore Daisy Makeig‐Jones's Fairyland Lustre was launched in 1915 and was in demand until the late 1920s, helping to reestablish the company's reputation for ornamental bone china. In the 1930s the company produced designs that embraced Modernist characteristics, notably a series of matt glaze wares in simple geometric shapes by Keith Murray. Victor Skellern was art director from 1934 to 1966, playing an important role in the modernization of the company by placing greater emphasis on technological innovation and experimentation. During the Second World War, in keeping with the strictures of Utility design in other fields of domestic design, he designed a highly practical, austere earthenware range called Victory Ware. In the following decade he designed the Strawberry Fields range with Millie Taplin, one of the first products to win a Design Award from the Council of Industrial Design (see Design Council) in 1957. From the 1950s onwards the company expanded through the takeover of many smaller ceramics competitors such as the Susie Cooper Pottery in 1966, but in terms of design generally relied more on tradition than radical innovation. In 1986 Wedgwood was bought by Waterford to form a huge conglomerate for ceramic and glass production. In keeping with the company's association with history, heritage, and quality the Wedgwood name was retained and many early company designs were produced to satisfy growing overseas demand.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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