In England, The Aesthetic Movement was an artistic movement that was a reaction and critique of the Industrial Revolution. It was art for art’s sake in which objects were made purely for their inherent beauty. The dominant medium of this movement in England was ceramics although the Aesthetic style influenced all modes of cultural production.
A major component of the Aesthetic style was the influence of the arts of Japan. In 1854 diplomatic relations were established between Japan and the United States and in 1858 trade relations began between the 2 countries which allowed a large number of Japanese goods to enter the United States. The craze for things Japanese by the American public, however, did not really occur until the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia with its spectacular Japanese exhibition.
The opening of Japan by the United States allowed other nations such as England to enter Japan and also be influenced by Japanese cultural objects. In 1872 the term Japonisme- art influenced by Japan- was first used by Jules Claretie in his book L’Art Francais and also by Phillipe Burty in his Japonisme III La Renaissance Literaire et Artistique. However, the term Anglo-Japanese was being used in England as early as 1851. It seems therefore that the influence of the arts of Japan in England perhaps occurred earlier than other countries.
Further support for this conclusion is the 1862 International Exhibition in London where there was an official Japanese section. The Japanese Court was organized by Sir Rutherford Alcock who had been the British Minister in Edo from 1858-1864. The Japanese area of the exhibition also included Alcock’s own extensive collection of Japanese objects.
Another factor in the prevailing influence of Japanese art in England earlier than elsewhere is the collection of Japanese art owned by James McNeil Whistler who moved to Great Britain in 1859. A final factor is the tradition of “oriental” influence on English design particularly in ceramics which allowed for an easy acceptance of Japanese objects and style. It of course also lead to a conflation and confusion of Japanese and Chinese motifs.
The following 3 Aesthetic patterns all demonstrate the influence of Japanese art. They all date from the early 1880’s, a decade that saw the greatest production and proliferation of Anglo-Japanese ceramics. All pieces pictured are part of my own collection.
I. Nipon by Doulton circa 1880
Dinner Plate, 10.25”
Over a ground of flowering branches, most likely from a fruit tree, is a zigzag ribbon with fishtail ends that makes three turns. The ribbon creates a central cartouche that depicts water hens at the edge of a body of water. In the left side of the cartouche is a mass of foliage. The other part of the ribbon on either side of the central cartouche depicts a geometric pattern reminiscent of a traditional European Greek key design.
However, the design on the plate also forms swastikas. The swastika is commonly found in the East. It is a Chinese character representing eternity and Buddhism and this character also entered the Japanese language. In Japanese art the swastika is often used in a repeating pattern. One common Japanese pattern is the sayagata which comprises left and right facing swastikas. This pattern in the Nipon plate is reminiscent of this Japanese design and could further relate to Japanese textiles.
A quick Google search turned up this 19th century underkimono:
While not an exact match to the pattern on the Nipon plate it certainly is evocative of it.
The following 19th century Japanese textile is an almost exact match to the pattern seen on the Doulton plate and a good example of a sayagata.
Soup Bowl 9.5”
The soup plate features geese eating fruit in the central cartouche.
Luncheon Plate 8”
The central cartouche of the luncheon plate features a pheasant beneath the bough of a pine tree.
II. Miako by Powell, Bishop and Stonier circa 1880
Miako is one of my favorite patterns and sadly I only have 2 examples of it. To me it is strikingly modern in its arrangement of elements and negative space. Like Nipon it demonstrates the influence of Japanese art not only through the asymmetry and placement of the elements in the design, but also with the motifs used.
Side plate 7.25”
Three elements make up the design of this plate: a cartouche depicting a stag, a pine tree branch and circular symbol reminiscent of a Japanese mon or heraldic badge.
Bread and butter plate, 5.5”
This small plate has the same pine bough and heraldic device as the larger plate. Here, however, the cartouche is in the shape of a fan with a bamboo handle tied with a ribbon. In the fan cartouche a bird and budding foliage is pictured.
III. Assouma by Doulton circa 1882-1886
Assouma is a whimsical pattern demonstrating its Japanese influence through its motifs and particularly its asymmetry. In each example a flowering branch reminiscent of peonies occupies the right side and upper half of the plate. Amidst the flowering the branch is a sprinkling of dots which create a most pleasing effect. On the bottom left of the plate are vases and pots with an Eastern feel.
Side Plate 7”
The vessel on this plate has a stylized decoration of clouds. It overlaps a mon with foliage and has the same fanciful dots seen on the upper part of the plate.
Plate 7. 875”
The tall vase on the larger plate has a floral and foliage design with the same dots seen on the upper section of the plate. The vase is filled with flowers and berries. Behind this vase is a small pot with the same stylized cloud design as seen on the smaller Assouma plate.
The vases on the sauce tureen lid and under plate are both empty. The body of the tureen is filled with the flowering branch. The handles on the side of the tureen and the lid is a wonderfully stylized piece of fabric with tasseled ends.
To see more examples of English Aesthetic pottery or to start collecting these wonderful ceramics, these 2 dealers have extraordinary pieces for sale: