- Museum number
Figure of Voltaire, caneware, moulded, wearing a hat and long coat and holding a book in his right hand, standing on a mound. Marked.
- Production date
- 1779 (circa)
Height: 31.40 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This is an example of contacts between England and France, and the great prestige of the French 'philosophes' like Voltaire and Rousseau in England in the years before the Revolution, especially among the increasingly assertive circles of Midlands manufacturers and scientific amateurs. The figure, perhaps modelled by William Keeling (fl. 1763-90) working from drawings to which Thomas Bentley put the finishing touches, is based on a small-scale marble of 1773, measuring 350 mm in height, by the Swiss sculptor Jean-Claude Rosset called Du Pont (1703 or 1706-86). It was issued by Wedgwood in 1778 in both basalt and caneware. A letter of 16 October 1779 from Josiah Wedgwood to his partner Thomas Bentley discusses problems experienced in firing caneware, mentioning the companion figure of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
A diminutive portrait marble by another French eighteenth-century sculptor, Jean-Claude Rosset, called Du Pont (1703 or 1706-86), measuring 13¾ in (35 cm) and dated 1773 was the basis of this most unusual small-scale figure of the philo¬sophe Voltaire (1694-1778) produced in the caneware composition during the Wedgwood and Bentley period. Basalt versions of this piece are much more common, the cane-coloured version having the additional merit of being mentioned in a letter from Wedgwood to Bentley. It may be remembered that the potter was still experiencing problems in producing cane-coloured ware in July or September 1779. On 16 October (E.26-18931) he wrote to his partner:
"We send you two small statues of Voltaire and Rousseau made of cane color clay, but you will find them both so much discolour'd in burning as to stand in need of a wash of paint. We cover'd them close in burning, knowing how apt this body is to turn brown but in vain ... I hope to overcome this evil, but it must be in a new body the present is incorrigible."
The British Museum figure is slightly discoloured, but this appears to be the result of the passage of time rather than of problems encountered in firing. The crispness of the modelling shews what standard of excellence the firm could achieve in this kind of work.
- On display (G46/dc18)
- Exhibition history
1990 6 Jun-9 Sep, France, Vizille, Musée de la Révolution Française, The French Revolution : La Version Anglaise
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number