Portrait medallions

The last quarter of the 18th century saw a passion for portraiture. Likenesses of the famous - historical and contemporary - family or friends were demanded and provided, in a wide range of media, including oil paintings, watercolours, prints, silhouettes, busts and statues. Print shops disseminated knowledge of events and celebrities and engraved images were produced very fast and sales were high.

Josiah was quick to realise the potential benefits to his business and met the demand for images of famous people, first in black basalt, then in his new jasper body. Rapid response was the key to success. One such example was Admiral Keppel, who became a national hero on 11 February 1779, following his acquittal when tried for failing to defeat the French in battle at sea. Within two weeks Wedgwood complained he had not been sent a model to work from - ‘we should have had it a month since', he said. A poor etching arrived, and by mid-March Josiah was firing a portrait taken from the print.

Large numbers of medallions depicting heroes and popular figures were available; other subjects were undoubtedly chosen to flatter his patrons or were private commissions. John Flaxman Jr and William Hackwood modelled some of Wedgwood's finest portrait medallions.

‘People will give more for their own heads or heads in fashion than for any subject and buy abundantly more of them. We should select proper heads for the different European markets and this plan will certainly increase our markets', Josiah wrote to Bentley on 2 July 1776.




Portrait medallion of Josiah Wedgwood. modelled by William Hackwood in 1782

Portrait medallion of Josiah Wedgwood. modelled by William Hackwood in 1782