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Wedgwood First Edition Numbered Copy of the Portland Vase from M.S. Rau Antiques



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This extraordinary copy of the legendary Portland Vase is one of the remarkably rare numbered First Editions crafted by Josiah Wedgwood, the greatest ceramics manufacturer of the 18th century. A tour-de-force of ceramic art, the Portland Vase First Editions are regarded as one of the greatest ceramic accomplishments of the 18th century, and a testament to the superior skill of Josiah Wedgwood, his extraordinary ambition, and his tireless dedication to perfection. Almost certainly the only numbered First Edition still in private hands, this exceptional Portland Vase is perhaps the greatest piece of ceramics to come on the market in recent decades.

Wedgwood’s oven records list 43 First Edition copies of the Portland Vase produced between 1791 and 1796, 11 of which were broken during the firing process. In all, it is believed around 30 First Edition vases were completed, though an unknown number of these were somewhat damaged – one of these imperfect examples is currently held by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The perfect examples such as ours have found their way into the most important museum collections in the world. The British Museum (London), Wedgwood Museum (Stoke-en-Trent), Art Institute of Chicago, Birmingham Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, UK), and the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), among others, all hold one of these highly coveted vases in their collections.

Many, but not all, of these First Editions were numbered with manganese pencil just inside the rim, with the highest recorded number being 30. These are without a doubt the best examples made by Wedgwood’s hand, as they are the only ones that match the complexity of the original, particularly in the superior shading of the cameo. The present version, which is numbered 22, is the last known example still in private hands; it was made for and owned by the Dowager Duchess of Beaufort, one of the original subscribers. With its heavier weight than later Portlands, its graceful form, and its exquisitely hand-painted shading on the cameo frieze, it is certainly among the finest copies made.

To this day, the renowned porcelain company regards the vase as its most momentous triumph, so much so that the vessel’s silhouette is incorporated into the Wedgwood logo and backstamp. The form is a copy of the famed ancient Roman vessel known as the Portland Vase, an exquisite piece that remains the most important example of Roman cameo glass ever made. Celebrated for both its beauty and craftsmanship, it currently holds a premier place in the British Museum, which houses the world’s finest collection of ancient artifacts. At the museum, it is second only to the Rosetta Stone in viewers, and is undoubtedly the most visited work of decorative art in the great museum’s collection.

The present example, First Edition #22, was exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology, Toronto, Canada, from 1951-1953.

Vase: 8″ high x 10″ wide x 8″ deep

Circa 1795

Item # 30 5197

More details and images here!