“Out of the Blue”: The Blue Willow Pattern. Distinctive and elaborate with the background color of white with the foreground of brilliant blue, “Willow” refers to the pattern and specific treatment known as “Transferware”. Whether applied transfer or stamped, the design of the Oriental, “Chinoisserie” pattern endures. Of note, the influence of the study of Orientalism brought Chinoiserie to the European sphere and was embraced into the various designs of the artisans of the time. Perhaps inspired by the mystique of the Orient, the admiration of Chinoiserie would thrive in popularity. Both the “Blue Willow” and its influences of Chinoiserie endure to appeal as timeless classic, indeed.
The pattern that became popular in 18th century England was a design that was inspired by the blue and white china that England imported from China during the late 18th century. Of interest, legends are said to have been invented behind the pattern that England would produce and which supposedly promoted its success. Various mythical stories and romantic fables, said to be based on the elements of design, are stated to have further inspired Victorian England to surround their interior worlds with “Blue Willow”. However, the historic accurateness of these legends are unknown. Either way, the appeal of the design would entice a covetous desire for the pattern of blue and white.
Historically, Thomas Minton (1765 – 1836), an English potter, has been given credit in the preparation of this design. During the early 1780s, Minton was an apprentice engraver on copperplate engravings for the production of transferwares at the Caughley Pottery Works in Shropshire under the proprietorship of Thomas Turner. Thomas Lucas, a Caughley engraver Thomas Lucas provided work for Josiah Spode at Stoke-on-Trent between 1780-1782, taking some elements of the fashionable chinoiserie patterns with him. At Caughley, it is believed that Thomas Turner may have designed the “Blue Willow” pattern but that it was Thomas Minton who prepared the first copperplates of the original design of the true willow pattern. Alas, history is unclear. However, “Blue Willow” is certainly an enduring pattern in history.
In 1785 Minton departed Caughley Pottery Works for Spode. Variations of the original “Blue Willow” design were acquired by Spode, Wedgwood, Adams, Davenport and other potters. Minton, was then favored and employed by Josiah Spode, and would engrave a new version of the Willow Pattern. Minton established his own pottery factory, Thomas Minton & Sons, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, which grew into a major ceramic manufacturing company with an international reputation. Founded in 1793, Minton’s company produced earthenware and from 1798 bone china. His products were standard domestic tableware in blue transfer printed or painted fine ornamental earthenware and china, including the ever-popular willow pattern. A timeless classic, for certain. Of interest, in terms of the mass production of the “Blue Willow” pattern, it would be Spode that would produce the first mass produced pattern on earthenware dishes around 1790. History would then follow to adorn the interior world with blue and white delight…
The classic and timeless features of the “Blue Willow” pattern are distinctly Oriental themed, including teahouses, pagodas, bridges with a trio of people crossing, latticework fences, two birds flying in the sky and of course, the willow tree. A pattern that swirls in Chinoiserie delights with an elegant and fanciful whimsy. A vintage pattern that is still appealing and fresh. Although the images presented incorporate basic Oriental patterns as well as true “Blue Willow” design, the classic blue and white combination of Oriental detailing can certainly be included in appreciation. Great design endures, indeed…
Consider the timeless beauty and distinction of the “Blue Willow” pattern. With touches of the Orient, “Blue Willow” is both elegant and appealing within our modern interiors. Lending a classic design with bold and vivid royal blue or paler hues of blue, the pattern still produced today is certain to continue in layering our interior worlds with classic appeal. Although the pattern has since been recreated in different color combinations, it is the timeless distinction of the original “Blue Willow” pattern that beckons my attention as a favored combination. Timeless distinction, indeed…
“Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging over.
A Chinese temple where it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.”