Following last week’s post, let’s look at one of the most well-known Chinoisierie designs: the Willow Pattern.
You will see the same scene on every example of the perennially popular blue and white china. Three people crossing the bridge, the temple, the willow tree, the apple tree, the crooked fence and the two birds flying overhead. The scene tells a story, which some say was invented by Thomas Minton in 1790 to sell more pottery but it may have been based on an actual Chinese legend.
So here is the story. Are you sitting comfortably?
Koong-se was the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Mandarin. She fell in love with her father’s humble secretary, Chang. Her father, however, had arranged for her to marry a rich Duke and locked her in a little house (just visible next to the temple) in an orchard to keep her away from Chang.
From here, Koong-se managed to send a message to Chang: “Gather thy blossom, ere it be stolen”. Chang made it to the orchard to rescue her and they hurried across the bridge, Koong-se carrying her jewels in a box – pursued by her father, brandishing a whip (and sometimes the Duke is also pictured).
The couple escaped in a little boat to an island and took refuge in a small wooden house. Koong-se’s enraged father and the Duke set fire to the house. Koong-se and Chang perished in the fire.
The young couple’s souls rose from the ashes and took the form of two doves, which you can see flying above.
Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o'er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.