Sunday, February 28, 2010

history lesson: the willow pattern

The recent work that I have been doing has been inspired by the classic Willow Pattern, as part of a history research unit. After centuries of Europeans importing Chinese and Japanese porcelain to fuel the 'chinoiserie' trend, local potters began to imitate the oriental ware in an attempt to claim back some trade. A company in England perfected bone china (yes, that would include ground bones in the recipe) and then designed their own oriental pattern, using elements from existing designs. The records from the time are unreliable, so no one is sure if it was Spode or Minton who made these important moves in ceramic history, but we do know that it all happened around 1790.

A love story claiming to be a Chinese fable was created to help sell the pattern to sentimental housewives, though Chinese historians have found that such a tale did not exist featuring all the elements in the pattern. More significantly, the star-crossed lovers are blessed with eternal life by the gods, pandering to the English romantics (we do like a happy ending!) but the Chinese would see the eternal life as a punishment for disobeying the powers that be. This animation tells the story very well...

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of the willow pattern, but there are some very clever people out there who have reinvented it;

Robert Dawson for Wedgwood

A clever person in Melbourne (I think?) that I can't find a link for, sorry!

Modern Chinese fables by Love

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