The First Day's Vases

To celebrate the opening of his new Etruria factory on the 13th June 1769, Josiah Wedgwood threw six First Day's Vases in his new black basalt body. Thomas Bentley, the man who was to become his partner, provided the motive power for the throwing wheel. After turning and firing the vases were sent to London, to the London-based decorating studios in Chelsea, to be painted with encaustic decoration in imitation of ancient so-called red-figure vases.

Encaustic painting was a type of decoration developed by Josiah to imitate Greek, Italian and so-called 'Etruscan' vases in the red-figure style. They would, he judged, appeal directly to the neo-classical market. The surface of the encaustic colours is matt and the colours are smooth and hard-wearing. They were applied in the conventional way with a brush, and the colours, although limited, usually consisted of orange-red, red, blue, green, pink and white - though the latter colours are rare. The technique of encaustic painting was patented by Wedgwood in 1769.

The shape of the vases, of which four survived decorating and re-firing, was copied from one depicted in the Hamilton Collection. Of the four vases which survive, two are in private collections, the other two are in the Wedgwood Museum. The full painted scene - 'Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides' - was copied from Plate 129 in Hamilton's first volume.

Below the pictorial representation the words Artes Etruriae Renascuntur are visible - meaning The Arts of Etruria Are Reborn. On the reverse side, also in red encaustic painting, appears the inscription:


One of the first Days Productions


Etruria in Staffordshire


Wedgwood and Bentley

The artist who worked on painting the figures on the vases has been customarily named as David Rhodes. He had been an independent enameller and partner of Jasper Robinson, in the firm of Robinson & Rhodes of Leeds, a company which often decorated Wedgwood's creamware pieces, particularly teapots. However, recent research has shown that the encaustic figures are more likely to be by William Hopkins Craft, one of the most skilled painters employed by Wedgwood in London who worked chiefly on the encaustic decoration of black basalt vases. The relationship between Wedgwood and Craft was stormy, and Craft left in April 1771 to become an independent enameller.

When the Etruria works were finally closed on the 13th June 1950, the event was marked by the production of vases six in the same shape. These are referred to as the 'Last Day's Vases'.




The First Day's Vases

The First Day's Vases