Here is a miniature wax profile of the celebrated potter Josiah Wedgwood, the widely respected (and pretty much unstoppable) head of the Wedgwood factory in the 18th century. The artist is John Flaxman, who signed it J. Flaxman below the shoulder. It is in the original wooden shadow box frame made of bird’s eye maple. John Flaxman (July 6, 1755 to December 7, 1826) was a British sculptor and draughtsman, a leading figure in British and European Neoclassicism, and a member of the Royal Academy. Early in his career, starting around 1775, he worked as a modeler for Wedgwood and Bentley, and in that capacity spent several years in Rome, leading a team of Wedgwood artists who copied and adapted classical designs for Wedgwood’s products. He modeled many miniature portrait reliefs in wax as designs for use in Wedgwood’s jasperware and basaltware. The usual procedure was to model the reliefs in wax on slate or glass grounds before they were cast for production in a ceramic clay. Flaxman’s skill as a sculptor meant he could produce excellent likenesses of living subjects as well as convincing representations of figures from history.
Flaxman also produced book illustrations and later emerged as a large-scale sculptor of funerary monuments. When he returned to London from Rome in 1794, Flaxman concentrated on his sculptures, so it was fitting that in 1795, following his friend Josiah's death, he created the Wedgwood memorial in St. Peter ad Vincula, Stoke-on-Trent's parish church.
As to dating wax portraits like this, I have seen various attempts, ranging from 1763 (which is obviously too early) to the early 19th century. Some say that this piece shows a clear resemblance to wax portraits Flaxman made of himself and his wife while they were in Rome. One author says Flaxman turned to making these miniatures when he was back in London working on his own. I think that is more likely.
The size of the frame is six by seven inches. I apologize for the photos. Because of the glass in the frame, it was almost impossible to take decent images. Also, the portrait looks more colorful than it actually is because I had to pump up the lights to get a good image. The only damage is that one edge of the black backdrop inside the frame shows some white spots (tears?). I tried to show this in a slanted shot. These do not show when the portrait is viewed normally. Since I digitally tidied up some reflections in the main photo, I’m also including the original of that photo, which shows a reflection of my hand and the camera lens.
When it comes to Wedgwood-related antiques, you couldn’t do much better than the sculptor John Flaxman’s hand-made portrait of his friend and employer Josiah Wedgwood.

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18th Century

Laureate Antiques

John Flaxman’s Wax Portrait of Josiah Wedgwood 18th Century


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