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Celebrity portraits

Engraving of Josiah Wedgwood

In the late 1770s the pottery firm Wedgwood & Bentley produced several jasper stoneware portrait medallions depicting scientists and collectors connected with Cook's Pacific voyages.

Potter Josiah Wedgwood decided there was a market for cameo portraits of famous people — or 'illustrious moderns' as he called them. The celebrity status of the scientists who sailed to the Pacific made them ideal subjects for Wedgwood. Well-to-do collectors stored their medallions in display drawers, set them into furniture or hung them on the walls of stately homes.

Right: This engraving shows the English potter and industrialist Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95). Courtesy: The Print Collector.

Wedgwood's medallion based on Greek and Roman cameos

In 1775, following the first voyage, Wedgwood chose to portray the Endeavour's botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

Collector Johann Reinhold Forster's portrait appeared in 1776, within a year of his return from the second voyage.

James Cook's portrait came in 1777, after he was recognised by the Royal Society.

Left: Wedgwood's medallions were based on Greek and Roman cameos like this one from 165 AD. Courtesy: Louvre, Paris, France, Peter Willi/The Bridgeman Art Library.

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