For centuries, blue and white porcelain has been collected by those with a discriminating eye for fine objects of art. Patterns in Blue Canton and Blue Willow dominate this pursuit. Blue Canton and the later pattern Blue Willow both have their roots in the Chinese export trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Blue Canton was manufactured in inland China then transported to the port city of Canton, hence its name. Pieces then were exported to Europe and America.
Although many designs of birds, bamboo, and landscapes were painted on the china, the scenic motif surpassed the others in popularity. Generally, the field included a tea house, bridge, river, mountains, boat, and the famous willow tree, but traditionally, no figures. The Blue Willow included these items but also images of people. One theory holds that Thomas Minton, an eighteenth English century potter, was inspired by the success of the Chinese porcelain to manufacture his own interpretation. He added two doves and provided a tale to explain the scenic design.
The fable, created to foster interest in China, recounts the story of two young lovers forbidden to marry because of social status differences. The young woman, the daughter of a Mandarin, has been betrothed to an older prosperous merchant. On the day of the wedding, the couple escapes to an island where they live happily for many years. The jilted fiancé eventually locates their retreat and orders them killed. The gods moved to pity, transforming them into turtle doves for all eternity.
This endearing fable continues on china, fabric, and wallpaper. Mottahedeh creates a complete line of dinnerware and accessories in its Blue Canton pattern. Schumacher reiterates the story on its Nanjing fabric, created not only on blue but also on a stunning jade. Lee Jofa produces the Willow Pattern on dramatic linen and on a fabulous grasscloth illustrating the eternal tale of the young couple. Many manufacturers continue to interpret this classic tale with dazzling results.