Wedgwood and John Flaxman

Jasper vase with 'The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche', about 1778

Jasper tablet with 'The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche', about 1778

Once the partnership could produce large tablets of jasper, they needed an artist who could do justice to them. The young John Flaxman (1755-1826) was already known to them since they made regular purchases from his father, a dealer in plaster casts.

Wedgwood wrote to Bentley in 1775 'I am glad you have met with a Modeler & that Flaxman is so valuable an Artist.' Three years later Flaxman modelled 'The Apotheosis of Homer', seen on the vase below and on the green chimneypiece. He adapted an illustration of the figures on a Greek vase in the collection of Sir William Hamilton, the British envoy to the court of Naples.

When jasper vases went into production after Bentley's death, Flaxman's design was used for one of the largest. Wedgwood was so pleased with this that he presented a blue and white example to the British Museum in 1786. Flaxman was responsible for improving some of the firm's existing designs, including perhaps 'The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche'. This was copied from a hardstone cameo known as the Marlborough Gem, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The portrait of William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806) was a new design, probably modelled soon after the young Prime Minister's General Election victory of 1784. Two later engravings of the portrait describe it as 'from a bust by J. Flaxman Esq. R.A.' Portrait heads were an important part of the 'ornamental' production, for the small ones were popular with collectors.