Ian Gregory, volunteer archivist at Buxton Museum, finds another thought-provoking curio from the collections:

Buxton Museum has a collection of ceramics. One of the items is a Ridgeway vase with a copy of The Willow Pattern; one of the most famous designs in British pottery. Its origins lie in the 18th century when what they called Chinoiserie was all the rage in Britain and Europe.

the willow pattern

Chinese styles may have been popular but did Georgian people understand it as well as they thought? Cobalt blue on white is certainly a Chinese colour scheme but the story of The Willow Pattern is European, not East Asian. There are similar scenes on Chinese export ceramics but what the Chinese made for exports often differed from objects made for their domestic market. Many motifs on porcelain bound for the home market would have meant nothing to Westerners, but a great deal to Buddhists or Taoists. Bats were a symbol of darkness in Europe, for example, but one of good fortune in the East.

Japanese painting
The Willow Tree by Eika Kato (1859-1942) watercolour collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Late in the late 19th century, a change took place; large numbers of Japanese prints arrived in Europe, and Western artists, especially those in France took an interest in them. Impressionist painters began putting figures on the edge of pictures, partly cut off by the frames. Post-impressionists depicted flatter images than their predecessors. Both practices derived from East Asian art.

Which is the deeper influence: The Willow Pattern and other Chinoiserie ceramics or the Post-impressionist borrowings from Japan? Most experts would say the latter.