Now 1,244 is not a trivial number and Wedgwood was understandably concerned: 'why all the gardens of England will scarcely furnish subjects sufficient for this sett, every piece having a different subject'. How he did it is explained by Alison Kelly in 'Wedgwood's Catherine Services', an article for The Burlington Magazine (August 1980). Wedgwood and his partner Thomas Bentley started with the famous landscape gardens that Catherine was particularly interested in, basing designs on published engravings like Beauties of Stowe, by George Bickham (1750-56) and Chambers's Description of the Gardens and Buildings of Kew (1771), as well as views sent in by sympathetic friends, like Mr Anson of Shugborough. Stowe, unsurprisingly, provided more views (43) than any other landscape garden.
In addition to the nation's most celebrated gardens, Wedgwood and Bentley used images of famous country houses, although Bentley wrote that 'we have purposely omitted to represent the most modern buildings, considering them unpicturesque'. Picturesque landscapes accounted for a good number of the designs: ruined abbeys, castles (150 of these) and even some early remains: Stonehenge, Kit's Coty House, a Cornish Dolmen and the Roman ruins of Silchester. Wedgwood and Bentley were also up-to-date with tastes in the Sublime, including various views of the Lake District, the Peak Cavern, the Giant's Causeway and Fingal's Cave. There is a letter from Wedgwood to Bentley in 1773 asking about Richard Wilson's landscapes: 'Pray have you Wilson's Views from different places in Wales? If you have not, Mr. Sneyd will lend them us'. Alison Kelly writes that 'after reading this letter it is pleasant to recognise on a dish the unmistakable outlines of Wilson's Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle.'
Richard Wilson, Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle, c1766
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Given their role in the Industrial Revolution it is interesting that a few of the pieces feature such scenes as Papermills at Rickmansworth, a Colliery and Pump near Bristol and the Dock at Plymouth. However, urban views are largely absent, with the notable exception of London. You can see a plate from the dinner service showing Somerset House on the Hermitage website (there don't seem to be any non-copyright images available to put up here). Other obvious London highlights included Kensington Palace, the Mall and Horseguards Parade but there were also a few views from the fringes of the city - Erith, Sunbury, Shepperton. Mention of Shepperton made me wonder what a contemporary 952 piece Ballardian dinner service might look - traffic islands, car parks, terminal beaches, abandoned hotels...
Eventually Wedgwood and Bentley had got together all 1,244 views and the completed service went on show in London before being sent to Russia. Apparently this was a great social success, as people were came to see whether one man's country estate featured more prominently than another's. When it arrived, Catherine the Great was satisfied and used it for state occasions in the Chesmenski Palace. But after her death it was eventually forgotten about and only rediscovered at the beginning of the last century, when nearly 800 pieces were found to have survived.