This fine example of Wedgwood black basalt was sold from the collections of Major Eustace Robb of Great Tew Park in Christie's 1987 house sale. Although it is not clear when it entered the collection, it is likely that the bust was a gift from Josiah Wedgwood to his friend Matthew Boulton, whose son Matthew Robinson Boulton (1770-1842) purchased Great Tew in 1815. Wedgwood and Boulton were both members of the famed Lunar Society of Birmingham. The society was established in 1765 with 14 members, all of whom met once a month (as close to a full moon as possible, which would enable a safe journey home) to attend discussions or practical demonstrations. Other members of the society included Erasmus Darwin, James Watt the engineer and inventor, Joseph Priestly a preacher and chemist, and John Whitehurst, horologist and maker of scientific instruments (see lots 98 and 99 in this catalogue). Wedgwood and Boulton benefitted greatly from their friendship and indeed Boulton worked with Wedgwood to create ormolu frames and mounts for ceramic works. Wedgwood was very pleased with his new basalt and said of it ‘The Black is sterling and will last forever’ (Katharine A. Esdaile, 'Wedgwood’s Busts in Black Basalt', Journal of The Royal Society of Arts, 16 May 1930, p. 744) and it would likely have given him great pleasure to make a gift of this new material to his friend and collaborator.
Wedgwood listed a number of black basalt busts ordered in 1774 from Oliver and Hoskins, including Homer, Plato, Palladio, Inigo Jones and Venus – ‘a collection of the finest Heads in the World’ (ibid., p. 746). It seems likely that this bust of Venus dates to that period, although 18th-century examples of this subject are rare.