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Wedgwood Family Portrait - 1780

Wedgwood Family Portrait, ©  Wedgwood Museum
    Wedgwood Family Portrait
    © Wedgwood Museum

This conversation piece shows the Wedgwood family in the park of Etruria Hall. Painted in oils on a wood panel by George Stubbs, who is renowned as the finest British horse painter.

During the summer of 1780 George Stubbs stayed at Etruria, with the Wedgwood family whilst Josiah experimented in making large-size terracotta plaques for Stubbs to paint on. During his stay Stubbs made sketches for a large family conversation piece depicting the whole Wedgwood family gathered in the grounds of their home - Etruria Hall. The famous picture, on oak panel, shows Stubbs’s ability as a horse painter, for which he was rightly acclaimed. Josiah suggested that Stubbs could make some contribution towards the enormous cost of the ceramic plaque he was producing for him commenting; ‘we will take the payment in paintings’. The large family painting was not liked by Josiah, who felt that the likenesses were ‘strong, but not very delicate’. He was particularly critical of the depictions of his wife, Sarah, and their daughters Susannah and Mary Ann in particular. Although never totally satisfied with the painting Josiah finally admitted that there was ‘much to praise and little to blame’ in the picture. Stubbs also painted Josiah and Sarah on ceramic plaques and Sarah’s father Richard Wedgwood while he stayed in Staffordshire. These family portraits also form part of the Wedgwood Museum collections and are displayed in the Wedgwood Museum, together with another interesting painted ceramic plaque traditionally thought to depict Erasmus Darwin, though now tentatively attributed, by a Stubbs scholar, to be Dr Hardy.

  • Type of object: Wedgwood family items/paintings and portraits
  • Mark: Geo. Stubbs pinxit 1780 [Inscribed]
  • Year produced: 1780
  • Material: wood
  • Accession number: 5703
  • Dimensions: 1490 mm (height), 2130 mm (width), 115 mm (depth)

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Related people

  • George Stubbs Artist

    George Stubbs - Artist (1723 - 1805)

    George Stubbs was born in Liverpool in 1724. He pursued not only a painting career, but also produced a most important anatomical work ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’ published in 1766. Before 1770 his scientific curiosity led him to the study of painting in enamel colours. Stubbs first came into contact with Wedgwood in his search for a different medium on which to try these colours. In 1775 his quest had come to the attention of Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood’s ornamental ware partner, and Wedgwood was initially most enthusiastic about the proposal to produce ceramic ‘tablets’, or plaques, for Stubbs to decorate. The firing of such large, flat ceramic objects necessitated a modification of the kilns at the factory, but eventually, as a direct result of this association, a considerable number ceramic plaques or ‘canvasses’ in a white terra cotta body were supplied by Wedgwood to Stubbs thus forming a ‘unique alliance’. Stubbs visited the Wedgwood family in 1780, staying for several months during the summer. During this time he produced various artistic works including the famous Wedgwood family portrait and the remarkable twin portraits of Wedgwood and his wife Sarah. These were painted in enamel colours on Wedgwood ceramic plaques – made especially by the factory for this purpose. In addition Stubbs modelled two bas reliefs – ‘The Frightened Horse’ and the companion piece ‘The Fall of Phaeton’. The strength and vigour of the modelling of both subjects by Stubbs make the two subjects amongst the most notable bas reliefs produced by the Wedgwood factory.

  • Josiah Wedgwood I Subject

    Josiah Wedgwood I - Subject (1730 - 1795)

    Josiah was born in 1730, the youngest of twelve children born to Mary Wedgwood and her husband, Thomas. His father was a potter who lived and worked at the Churchyard Works, Burslem. This town was still connected by rough roads to the other five towns which made up the area of North Staffordshire known as the Potteries. By the time of his death, Josiah Wedgwood I not only improved the variety and quality of pottery produced, but he also opened up the area as an important centre of commerce with the rest of the world through his involvement in the development of canal and road networks. He went on to become one of the most influential ceramic manufacturers in the world, and earned the title 'The Father of English Potters'. His direct descendants are still involved in the factory which bears his name today.Much of Josiah's development as a successful businessman, philanthropist and potter can be accounted for by the ill fortunes he suffered. At the age of 9 when his father died and he had to abandon his formal school education in order to work in the family business. Then at around eleven years old he contracted smallpox and was left with a knee-infection which constricted his use of the kick-wheel on which the pottery shapes were formed. From that time onwards he focused on affecting the perfection and marketing of Burslem's main product.Another spur to Wedgwood’s success was his growing affection for his distant cousin, Sarah whom he had met at the home of his wealthy uncles, John and Thomas. Whereas Josiah came from a poor background, Richard, his future father-in-law, was a prosperous cheese-merchant from Cheshire who apparently insisted that the young potter achieved a certain level of wealth before he could marry his daughter. Wedgwood entered partnerships with other potters, most notably Thomas Whieldon, and established himself as an independent potter in 1759. He moved to superior premises at the Ivy House Works where he perfected his Queen’s ware body and then to the Brick House Works. His reputation was rapidly spreading farther afield and finally, Richard was convinced of his suitability as a husband for his daughter, Sarah.There is no doubt as to Josiah’s love for Sarah when, on the eve of their wedding in 1764 he wrote to his partner, Thomas Bentley: 'I yesterday prevailed upon my dear Girl to name the day, the blissful day! When she will reward all my faithfull services and take me to her Arms!'.

  • Catherine Wedgwood Subject

    Catherine Wedgwood - Subject (1774 - 1823)

    Catherine was born on 30th November 1774 and was described by her father in a letter to his partner, Thomas Bentley, as – ‘a fine, healthy and perfect child.’ She and her sister Sarah contributed extensively to the anti-slavery movement. Catherine died at Parkfields Cottage, Tittensor - near the present-day Wedgwood factory at Barlaston - in 1823.

  • Josiah Wedgwood II Subject

    Josiah Wedgwood II - Subject (1769 - 1843)

    Second surviving son of Josiah I and Sarah, Jos was baptised at Stoke on 3rd August 1769. He was educated principally at home – his tutors included Josiah’s nephew, Tom Byerley – and also attended Edinburgh University. Like his brothers Jos was given a thorough grounding in factory manufacture and procedures. Although he regarded his work with the company as a duty, his father took him into partnership with his brothers, in 1790. In the same year, accompanied by Tom Byerley, Jos toured Holland and Germany with a first-edition copy of the Portland Vase, in order to generate both interest and orders. In December 1792 he married Elizabeth, or Bessy, Allen. Following the death of his father, Jos moved to Surrey, leaving an inept Tom Byerley in charge of both the factory and the London showrooms. When his younger brother Tom died prematurely in 1805, Jos returned to Staffordshire, to live at Maer Hall, to manage the firm he had inherited. Under his leadership bone china was made from 1812 – though it was progressively withdrawn from production and had ceased to be produced by 1831. Jos was responsible for the decision to close the York Street showrooms, and the sale of goods included general stocks as well as irreplaceable moulds and models. In 1823 Jos took his eldest son Josiah III (Joe) into partnership, and four years later another brother, Francis, also joined the business. Jos became a Member of Parliament in 1832, and in 1841 he retired from the firm, dying two years later. His nephew, the great Charles Darwin, said of him – ‘He was the very type of an upright man, with the clearest judgement. I do not believe that any power on earth could have made him swerve an inch from what he considered the right course.’

  • Mary Ann Wedgwood Subject

    Mary Ann Wedgwood - Subject (1778 - 1786)

    Mary Ann was born on 18th August 1778, and on the following day Wedgwood wrote to Thomas Bentley that Mrs Wedgwood had presented him with – ‘with another fine girl & with as little trouble to herself & family as could be expected.’ In fact Mrs Wedgwood had been serving tea to the family while they were playing bowls when she had to send for the midwife! Despite a promising start in life Mary Ann suffered greatly with her teeth – and with apparent epileptic convulsions, which Doctor Erasmus Darwin treated with an early form of electric shock therapy. Despite all the efforts of her physician and her loving family, she died on 21st April 1786.

  • Thomas Wedgwood Subject

    Thomas Wedgwood - Subject (1771 - 1805)

    Born 14th May 1771 Tom inherited his father’s scientific genius. He was educated at home and later at Edinburgh University. His father had intended for Tom to be involved with the business as ‘the traveller & negociator (sic)’ – but like his brothers he exhibited a distinct lack of enthusiasm for a potting career. He became a partner with his brothers between 1790 and 1793, but suffered from chronic ill-health and spent the rest of his life travelling in the pursuit of a cure.Tom discovered the action of light upon nitrate of silver – this process is sometimes referred to as the earliest record of photography, and earned Tom the title ‘Father of English Photographers’. Thomas had many friends including the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth. Wordsworth wrote of Tom – ‘His calm and dignified manner, untied with his tall person and beautiful face, produced in me an impression of sublimity beyond what I had ever experienced from the appearance of any other human being.’ He died, unmarried, on 10th July 1805 and his bronze death mask is held in the collection of the Wedgwood Museum.

  • John Wedgwood Subject

    John Wedgwood - Subject (1766 - 1844)

    Eldest son of Josiah I and Sarah, John was baptised in Burslem on 28th March 1766. In January 1794 he married Louisa Jane a younger sister of Bessy Allen, who had married his brother Jos two years before. John studied at the Warrington Academy and Edinburgh University, and was also well versed in pottery manufacturing methods. In 1790 he became a partner in the business with his brothers Jos and Tom, but in April 1793 resigned his position. He obtained a partnership in the banking house of Alexander Davison & Co. When his father died in 1795 John moved to Wiltshire where he pursued an interest in botany and horticulture. He was responsible for founding the Society for the Improvement of Horticulture (later the Royal Horticultural Society), and was its first chair at the inaugural meeting which took place at Hatchard’s in March 1804. A new partnership agreement resulted in John taking a more active interest in the firm and he was mainly responsible for the introduction of under-glaze blue-printing – many of the early patterns show distinct botanical influences and include the so-called ‘Darwin Water Lily’ in 1807. In his private life John was extravagant and despite being described by Tom Byerley as ‘extremely active and intelligent’ he was forced to resign his partnership in the firm in December 1811, and became dependent upon trusts set up by the family as he was incapable of managing his financial affairs.

  • Susannah Wedgwood Subject

    Susannah Wedgwood - Subject (1765 - 1817)

    Eldest child of Josiah and Sarah, Susannah, or Sukey as she was known, was born on 3rd January 1765. Her father was immensely proud of his daughter, often describing how he ‘dandled her on his knee’ when she was a baby. She was intelligent and popular, and can be claimed to have been her father’s favourite. In 1796 she married Robert Waring Darwin – third son of the Wedgwood family friend and physician, Erasmus Darwin. The couple set up home at The Mount in Shrewsbury, and amongst her offspring was the great but controversial naturalist Charles Darwin, whose theories on evolution caused huge divisions in Victorian society. Susannah died on 15th July 1817.

  • Sarah Wedgwood Subject

    Sarah Wedgwood - Subject (1734 - 1815)

    The daughter of a rich cheese-merchant, Richard Wedgwood of Spen Green in Cheshire, Sarah was a distant cousin of Josiah I. The couple married at Astbury Church on 25th January 1764, and their first child, Susannah, was born a year later. The marriage was a true love-match, and Josiah greatly valued his wife’s practical help. He described her as his ‘chief helpmate’. Sarah often acted as Josiah’s secretary and ‘tested’ his pots giving practical advice as to their improvement. Josiah wrote to his partner, Thomas Bentley saying – ‘I speak from experience in Female taste, without which I should have made but a poor figure among my Potts, not one of which, of any consequence, is finished without the approbation of my Sally.’ Although Sarah suffered ongoing ill-health, she bore Josiah eight children, one of whom, Richard, died in infancy. Despite her weak constitution she survived Josiah by some twenty years, dying at Parkfields Cottage, Tittensor, near to the present Wedgwood factory in Barlaston, on 15th July 1815. She is buried with her husband, Josiah I, at the church of St Peter ad Vincula in Stoke-on-Trent.