Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Jasper Blue through the ages

Tray of Jasper Trials, 1773. The Wedgwood Museum Collection
Epsiode 5 of the BBC's Seven Ages of Britain, my current fast food TV programme of choice, saw David Dimbleby not only admiring the Angelica Kauffman roundels at the RA I mentioned in an earlier post, but also playing with Josiah Wedgwood's ceramic colour samples (see above). They are in a drawer at the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent. Not only do they have an abstract beauty one comes across frequently in colour charts, palettes etc., they are also a wonderful example of the subtleties of colur shades and Wedgwood's determination to find the perfect shade of blue. His Jasper ware was introduced in 1775, after years of experimenting. It is best known, and perhaps most popular, in a pale, unglazed blue. It was also produced as a darker shade of blue, as well as lilac, black, yellow, and sage green, often decorated with white neo-classical figures, most of them designed by John Flaxman and William Hackwood.

More on the history of Jasper ware here. Apart from creating most the dreamy shades of blue, I admire Wedgwood for having made a political statement with pottery: In 1787 he produced a Jasper Slave Medallion to awaken the public's awareness of the injustice of the slave trade. He sent one to Benjamin Franklin as well:

Wedgwood's Slave Medallion, 1787. Image from the official Wedgwood website.

250 years on the Wedgwood factory is still in existence and produces very fine and very expensive ceramics, including the classic Portland Vase (£9,000, if you have some small change).
A few years ago you could have picked up a piece of blue Jasper ware for free at the V&A. In 2006 the wonderful installation artist Clare Twomey flooded the Cast Courts of the V&A with 4000 Jasper Blue birds and encouraged visitors to take them away. Appropriately, the exhibition/installation was called "Trophy". Below are some images of "Trophy", all from Clare Twomey's official website. The installation was magical, beautiful, full of humour and respect for the history of Jasper ware. I didn't get one of the birds but really wish I had. I might have to trail Ebay. More on "Trophy" here and here, the latter link including a short video clip.

Friday, 5 March 2010

A Goethe toolkit

The Klassik Stiftung Weimar has made me very happy by publishing (producing?) a toolkit based on Goethe's experiments on colour. The last time I got so excited about a new toy was when I was 10 and my grandmother gave me a rather good microscope.
At first glance this box may look like a gimmick but is actually very well produced, designed and commented. It contains a facsimile reprint of Goethe's first proper publication on colour (Beitr├Ąge zur Optik, 1791), a very nice booklet on Goethe's involvement with colour theory (written by Gisela Maul), a set of "playing cards" copying the set made and used by Goethe, separate tables to illustrate his experiments and, to top it all, a real prism. I haven't started "playing" properly with the prism and the cards yet, but the booklet alone is worth the price of the box (around £22). Since most of the original drawings and items relating to Goethe's colour studies are in the archives of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar the illustrations are of the highest quality and, luckily for me, come with detailed references and descriptions. I am planning a research trip to Weimar in the near future to look at the originals.

You probably won't find this on Amazon any time soon (despite it having an ISBN 978-3-938753-03-3) but my local bookseller in Germany ordered it for me within a few days.

Some of the cards from a set of 27.