Sunday, December 03, 2006


The classroom bit... There has long been a fascination in the West for all things "Oriental" and this desire has been played out in many fields. The idea of 'the Orient' is usually as a mystical, colourful, sensual, ritualistic place, spanning from the Middle East with the pyramids in Egypt to the Far East of Asia and the temples of Japan. Our society seems to hold an interest in all things "other" and Orientalism was an artistic tradition that utilised the aesthetic traditions and motifs of those far off foreign lands to fulfill a European need for fantasy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was almost unheard of for anyone but merchants to make the perilous journey to Asia. Traditional Blue & White pottery and earthenwares were brought back to Europe in huge quantities to satisfy popular demand. Native British potteries, mainly in the Staffordshire region then decided to cut out the middle men and started to produce their own oriental style wares and so began the rise and rise of well known names like Bow, Worcester and Caughley. For the Victorians and then the Edwardians, the Far East had become a place where more and more people could travel and souvenir wares flooded the nations homes. There was another surge in oriental inspired design in homegrown European art and crafts. The Aesthetic movement drew heavily upon Japanese design and the phrase "Japonism" is often used to describe pieces of this time and type. Design motifs like fans, freizes, cherry blossoms, water lilies, finches and dragons were applied to all sorts of things from wardrobes to tea sets. For pottery and porcelain, oriental inspired design had begun two centuries earlier with what is now called 'Chinoiserie'. The fashion for Chinoiserie design has come and gone several times over the past few centuries and in various incarnations and it found popularity once again in the deco period of the 1920s/30s. Artists and artisans have often used loosely oriental looking scenes - sometimes direct copies of Chinese or Japanese originals, or more frequently, fantasies based on oriental motifs such as: pagodas, fences, chrysanthemums and people with pointy hats carrying parasols. In the original Chinese and Japanese designs, these motifs were used like a language and often symbolised ideas that the people who saw them would recognise and be able to interpret, much like religious symbolism in early Western art. The visual symbolistic language of the originals was lost in translation however when it was copied and ammended towards western tastes. Powell Bishop & Stonier began their association with oriental inspired design with their Aesthetic movement pieces in the late 1870s and 1880s. Their 'Oriental Ivory' range utilised familiar western interpretations of oriental design such as those already mentioned. On an ivory coloured base, they applied numerous chinoiserie/japonism/aesthetic designs, often using a transfer print, coloured enamels and gilding. Victorian design is often labelled as heavy, clunky and OTT in it's application, but the Aesthetic movement and simultaneously, the Arts & Crafts movement began to lighten the mood and gave design, room to breath. Mid-Victorian design often filled every available inch of space with pattern and colour, but as the century progressed, we can see a trend towards more roomy compositions, often assymetrical. Fans, frames and freizes were strong structural devices that sat next to organic foliate designs. This juxtaposition is perhaps the Aesthetic movement's most obvious signature style. When Art Deco came along, assymetry seemed to fall out of favour to more symmetrical and geometric design. Some potteries took this change on board more easily than others and perhaps it was something to do with this that Bishop & Stonier finally found that the wolf at their door would not go away and the company was bought out by George Jones (although they continued to use the Bisto trademark). Interestingly, George Jones had produced many similar wares to Bishop & Stonier for many years, but they seemed to be able to adapt more easily to the more angular, jazzy styles that started to infiltrate the market from the 1930s onwards and ultimately saw designers like Clarice Cliff and Charlotte Rhead take centre stage.


Anonymous said...

oh satan before me,

i didnt have the time to read,

but i go so weak before porcelain,

hee hee, i do,

me, (flog it !) X

Ben said...

I'm learning a lot here. I'm not sure it's knowledge I can use though!

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Sometimes, life doesn't turn out the way you expected. And sometimes, it is exactly as it was 'meant' to be. But whilst i'm not a believer in fate or fatalism, I do believe that life is a both a learning experience and an obstacle course to be climbed and clambered over in the most creative way possible! In doing so, you'll get to where you should be even if it's not where you'd imagined.