The Dancing Hours

Perhaps the best-known of all the Wedgwood bas reliefs is the Dancing Hours, attributed to John Flaxman Jr. Much of the written information indicates that this bas relief originated in 1778. However, an earlier reference from 1776 reads: ‘No 242 Is from a drawing you sent for Vases to paint, which we find likewise very suitable for Bas-reliefs particularly for the Dancing Hours...No 216 Does very well for the Dancing Figures, but the handles are too plain...' (The numbers 242 and 216 refer to vase shapes in the Wedgwood factory records).

A later reference to the design appears in a letter dated 1778 in which ‘...tablets of dancing hours ...' are mentioned as being ‘...intended as frises to the marriage of cupid etc.' Whilst there is no direct reference to Flaxman Jr as the artist responsible, the subject is mentioned along with two known Flaxman works, strengthening the traditional attribution.

The source for the design is a chimney-piece of white marble against a blue lapis ground, formerly in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome. In the 18th century it was installed in Moor Park, Hertfordshire, the seat of Sir Lawrence Dundas, and is now in the Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight.

The Dancing Hours depicts the classical Horae, the personifications of the hours of the day. The bas reliefs have appeared in varying sizes on a wide range of ornamental and decorative items. In later years the figures were more heavily draped to conceal their ‘charms'. They are still produced today, generally in their draped form.

A group of dancing figures also appears in volume III, part II of Montfaucon's L'Antiquité Expliquée... which Wedgwood and Bentley drew on for inspiration for classical subjects. It is included in the list of books belonging to the partnership in 1770.




The Dancing Hours plaques, 1778–80

The Dancing Hours plaques, 1778–80