Josiah Wedgwood, potter and industrialist, was apprenticed to his potter brother, Thomas, at an early age. When his brother denied him a partnership in the family business, he collaborated with the prominent potter Thomas Whieldon to establish his first pottery factory, in Burslem, Staffordshire, with Thomas Bentley (1730-1780) as his business partner. In the 1770s Wedgwood and Bentley established the Etruria works near Stoke-on-Trent. Jasperware, granularly textured stoneware with white bas relief, was introduced in 1774. In later life Wedgwood was a prominent advocate of the abolition of slavery, from 1787 using his Wedgwood Jasperware as a means to publicise the cause in Britain and America. The plaque of Cook is thought to be one of a series of ‘Illustrious Moderns’ produced by Wedgwood and Bentley comprising portraits of scientists, philosophers, doctors and statesmen of the times. Many of the Jasperware reliefs were designed by John Flaxman (1755-1826), who worked for Wedgwood from 1775 to 1787, before he cemented his illustrious reputation as a sculptor and draughtsman.
Wedgwood’s plaque portrait of James Cook is based on an engraving executed by James Basire after the painting by William Hodges, the official artist on Cook’s second voyage.