willow-pattern ware, sometimes porcelain but frequently opaque pottery, originated in Staffordshire, England, c.1780. Thomas Minton (see Minton, family), then an apprentice potter, developed and engraved the design, presumably after an old Chinese legend. It portrays the garden of a rich mandarin whose young daughter elopes with his secretary. The lovers, overtaken on the bridge by her father, are transformed by the gods into birds and flutter beyond his reach. The scene with its willow tree covers the central part of a plate, dish, or bowl, with a border of butterflies, daggers, a fret, or other motif. The blue-and-white chinaware on which it appeared became immensely popular, and the design was reproduced with variations by many European potters and even in Asia, where it is still constantly employed, most of the ware being exported to Western countries.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.