17 June 2013

Spode and Willow Pattern

Book cover featuring
Willow pattern and a coffee pot in pattern 2061 Cabbage pattern
Spode's Willow pattern is probably one of the most successful patterns ever made. I can't really add much to the history as written by Robert Copeland. So, for those who want to find factual, in-depth information there is a specialist book on the subject. Click here for the details on my booklist of Spode's Willow Pattern and Other Designs After the Chinese.

Spode produced a number of patterns, as well as Willow, in the style of 18th century Chinese porcelain in the late 1700s and early 1800s, as did other manufacturers. In his book Robert Copeland attributes the design of the Willow pattern to Spode, around 1790, and discusses the background to this and other Spode designs taken from Chinese porcelain. Although in the late 18th/early 19th century any blue printed design imitating Chinese porcelain was often described as Willow, the main features of the true Willow pattern are the bridge with three people crossing it, the willow tree, the boat, the main teahouse, the two birds and the fence in the foreground of the garden. 

Interestingly the two patterns in blue printed ware which were the most successful for Spode are both composite designs. Willow pattern is one of these and is made up from elements of Chinese porcelain designs but for which there is no Chinese original; the other is Italian pattern, introduced in about 1816, which has a central design made up from unconnected classical elements surrounded by a border. The border is a direct copy of an Imari design on Chinese export porcelain of about 1735. These 'made up' patterns were much more commercially successful for Spode than, for example, one of my favourites, Rock pattern (illustrated) taken from a Chinese original.
Chinese porcelain source for Rock pattern, 
18th century
Spode sugar box, Old Oval shape, Rock pattern
pearlware, printed underglaze, gilded, c1795
Chinese-style patterns of all sorts always remained successful for Spode throughout its history. They appealed to customers who had a more traditional, even old-fashioned taste, and were catered for alongside new customers demanding 'modern' designs of topographical, pastoral or botanical subjects which were coming into vogue in the early 1800s. Spode pieces of this period, and those of comparable manufacturers, were skilfully potted with a beautiful silky glaze and have fine engravings on elegant shapes. Supper sets, leg baths, rouge pots, asparagus servers and teawares, all indicate customers of taste and wealth. The ordinary person would not be using this type of ware in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Willow was made off and on from the late 1700s through to the early 2000s; Italian was in continuous production from about 1816 and is still made under the Spode brand name by Portmeirion Group today (2013). Both have been made in different colours and on different bodies although probably most variations have occurred to Willow.

Many people relate the 'Willow pattern story' when talking about this ceramic design. The story is apocryphal and actually has nothing at all to do with Spode. The earliest publication of the story found so far is in The Family Friend Volume I of 1849. This is many years after the origination of the pattern. It was published as The Story of the Common Willow-Pattern Plate, so it seems obvious from the title of the story that by 1849 the Willow pattern had become commonplace, no longer limited to well-to-do families who had by this date moved on from Chinese designs. 
Pink Willow bone china, c1880
When learning about the different dates and types of Willow pattern and similar patterns there is no substitute for handling pieces and getting to know the feel of the Chinese and Spode pieces which, whilst they can initially look remarkably alike, feel very different. In the same way you can also learn the feel of Spode pieces made in the late 1700s and early 1800s which are different from those made in the later 19th century and into the modern era. Glazes and bodies change and the feel is quite different. In this way you can also become familiar with Spode's bodies such as earthenware, bone china and stone china.

There is an illustration here too of Willow pattern in pink on Chelsea shape with pattern number 1/2134 first recorded in about 1880. At the end of this blog there is also an illustration of a tissue 'pull' from a copper plate engraved with Willow pattern. Note that the tissue is back to front: the copper is engraved the 'right way round' (unlike book illustrations of the period for example) and then the finished piece is the right way round after the image is transferred from the tissue. The colour of the print on the tissue shows you what cobalt blue is like before it is fired on the finished piece.

You can learn more about transfer printing by clicking the following links: Spode Exhibition OnlineTransferware Collectors Club and on my blog Spode and Hogarth. Click here for an extra treat! then scroll down to Willow Pattern for an image of Spode's Willow pattern and other designs after the Chinese.....
Tissue pull, Willow pattern.
The stage between copper and ceramic.