No fewer than 1,282 views were painted upon the 952 pieces which comprised this service. The border was composed of oak leaves and acorns, upon which appears a small shield painted with a green frog, symbolical of the palace of La Grenouilliere - the place of the frogs - at which it was to be used.
A Contemporary Criticism
When complete, in 1774, the service was exhibited in London, and from the pen of the garrulous Mrs. Delany comes the following account of it:
" I am just returned from viewing the Wedgwood ware that is to be sent to the Empress of Russia," she writes. " It consists, I believe, of as many pieces as there are days in the year, if not hours. They are displayed at a house in Greek Street, Soho, called 'portland House.' There are three rooms below and two above filled with it, laid out on tables, everything that can be wanted to serve a dinner; the ground, the common ware pale brimstone, the drawings in purple, the border a wreath of leaves, the middle of each piece a particular view of all the remarkable places in the King's dominion neatly executed."
During the autumn of 1909 the remains of this service, which had recently been discovered packed away in a palace in Russia, were, by the gracious permission of the Tsar, again exhibited in London by the descendants of Josiah Wedgwood. So history repeats itself, and the interest evinced in this exhibition was even more marked than it had been in the days of Mrs. Delany.
It is believed that £3,000 was eventually paid for this wonderful service, but the exact sum was never disclosed. It cost, including the printing of the catalogue, insur-ance, and packing, £2,410 10s. 5d.
Having perfected his cream and other early wares, Wedgwood turned his attention to those bodies with which his name is most commonly associated to-day. Black ware had been known in the Staffordshire potteries for some time, but Wedgwood improved this, and called it "Black Basalts." It was an unglazed body, which, in the hands of this great potter, became absolutely perfect. The grain was fine, the surface smooth, and the tone rich. It was used for tea and coffee services, for urns, flower-pots, busts, intaglios, plaques, and vases, upon which the name Wedgwood is impressed.
Other makers copied this ware and the shapes and designs. They, however, never succeeded in making so fine and smooth a body. These copies may be unmarked, or bear such names as Adams, Mayer, or Turner impressed.
Black ware was also used as the basis of Wedgwood's "Etruscan," or "encaustic" ware, ornamented with unglazed colours in imitation of ancient Etruscan vases.
A red ware and a terra-cotta body were also made, the terra-cotta being of several colours. Cane, chocolate, bamboo, red with black reliefs, or black with these in red, buff, a grey, and a cream, may all be met with.
The lovely jasper ware, however, was the finest of all Josiah Wedgwood's inventions. He worked upon it for many years before he could at last write to his partner in London : "We are now absolute with the jasper." This must have been about 1787, for, in a catalogue issued that year, he introduces this ware in the following words : ' As these are my latest, I hope they will be found my most improved works. Verbal descriptions could give but an imperfect "dea of the delicacy of the material, the execution of the artist, or the general effect . . ."
Blue is the colour generally associated in the mind of the collector with jasper ware; and we hear a good deal about "Wedgwood blue," as if there were but one shade. In reality, there are eight, ranging from the palest grey to a rich dark blue. There is also a black ground with white reliefs, seven tints of green, pink, lilac, buff, and terra-cotta red. The reliefs are generally in white, but in many cases they will be found in other colours, and upon some pieces several colours are used. Upon early pieces of the best period the colour of the body can be faintly distinguished through the thin parts of the white reliefs with very pleasing effect. Medallions and cameos, plaques, busts, candelabra, inkstands, tea-services, coffee-pots, lamps, cabinet specimens, chessmen, and many other articles were made.
These were beautifully modelled by Flaxman, Hackwood, Tassie, and other artists. The figures and drapery were carved with the greatest delicacy, and were generally of a classic description. Some of the vases were of very large size, but these were not more delicately finished than those small intaglios and other jewels which became the rage, and which we may still find in private and public collections. These choice gems were mounted in cut steel, in gold or silver, and they were worn as jewels or set into patch-boxes, bonbonnieres, tea-caddies, etc. Many of these jewels have been ruthlessly taken from their original chased or cut metal or ivory settings, and have been mounted in mid-victorian machine wrought gilt metal devoid of artistic taste and feeling.
The collector must bear in mind that Wedgwood's jasper ware has been, and is still being, made by his descendants. The only sure test is the quality of the body and the workmanship. The body will be found, in old pieces, to be of the finest texture, smooth as satin. The reliefs are beautifully executed, sharp in outline, and perfect to the minutest detail. Later pieces lack this fineness of execution, the body is less compact, and the reliefs are chalky and show a tendency to crack. It is a curious fact that, although his art found true appreciation in England, Wedgwood's most liberal patrons were the French collectors of that art-loving time - the Louis XVI. period. So great was the demand for his jasper ware, and so large the importation into France, that the Royal factory at Sevres began to copy Wedgwood's vases, medallions, and plaques. In 1786, at a sale of bric-a-brac collected by a Duchess of Portland, Wedgwood saw and determined to purchase the famous Barbarini vase. This wonderful work of art had been discovered, between the years 1622 and 1644, in marble sarcophagus near Rome, supposed to be that of the Emperor Severus and his mother, who had been slain in Germany 235 a.d. It was of dark blue transparent glass, with white reliefs in semi-opaque paste. It had been bought from the Barbarini family by Sir William Hamilton, who in turn sold it to the Duchess of Portland. Wedgwood soon found that he had only one opponent in the bidding, the Duke of Portland himself, who, when the figure reached £1,000, crossed the room and asked why Wedgwood wanted the vase, and upon hearing of his desire to copy it in jasper, the Duke offered to lend it if Wedgwood would retire from the contest. This was agreed to. The Duke paid £1,029 for the vase, which Wedgwood took home in triumph. He says : ' I cannot sufficiently express my obligation to his Grace for entrusting this inestimable jewel to my care, and continuing it so long - more than twelve months - in my hands, without which it would have been impossible to do any tolerable justice to this rare work of art."