The willow pattern is, for many an immediately recognisable classic Chinese landscape design that appears on plates and other types of pottery. This pattern has been quite popular for centuries. The design includes a fruit bearing tree, a weeping pillow and crooked fence, pagodas, people standing on a bridge, a pair of lovebirds kissing and a boat.
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The term “willow” is often used to describe copies of the classic blue and white porcelain plates and objects that first appeared in England during the last half of the 18th century by way of China. Most British pottery manufacturers consider the willow pattern their stock pattern and this has held true for the past 150 years, according to online resource Potteries.org.
The willow pattern was put on the map by Thomas Minton, who produced porcelains during the Victorian era. Minton was an English potter, whose factory produced blue-transfer printed wares.
Changes have been made to the willow pattern over the years. The original design did not include two doves or the apple tree. Slight alterations have also been made in the design, including using a butterfly, a difference in the fence detail and tweaking the lattic work or the fretted border. The background of this design is white, although the foreground colour can vary. It is most commonly blue but you can sometimes find the willow pattern, in brown, green or pink.
According to "The Hung Society or The Society of Heaven and Earth," by J.S.M. Ward, willow plates were actually political and a means by which the Hung Society, a banned organisation, communicated their membership with others in the secret order. The plates that featured the willow design were actually a pictorial way of defying these rulers. The government destroyed the original willow pattern plates; however, the design was reportedly smuggled into England and was reintroduced to China in the 19th century.
A romantic legend behind the willow pattern, according to Potteries.org, is that a Mandarin girl, promised by her father to a duke fell in love with someone else. Her father was so angry that he constructed a fence around his house so his daughter couldn’t tryst with her lover. The duke, bearing diamonds as gifts, travelled to the girl’s house in a boat. The wedding was set for the day after the willow tree shed its blossoms. The girl escaped with her lover, making off with the diamonds. The two ran over a bridge and escaped to safety. The jilted duke, upon discovering their hiding place planned to exact revenge. He sent soldiers to capture the lovers and put them to death. The gods transformed the lovers into a pair of doves There are other legends that surround the willow pattern.
In "The Willow Pattern," which appeared in the issue 32 of the online World Collector's Net magazine, author Donna Kearns notes that this version of the legend was invented by English potteries in the late 1700s as a marketing tool for their Chinese-inspired wares.
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