It's for the birds


Did you enjoy last week's birds? I have more birds today, although from the later 19th Century: the era called the Aesthetic Movement.

This beautiful set of 6 dessert plates was made by Minton in the popular "Essex birds" pattern. I live in Essex, just on the northern edge of London (today that's not called Essex anymore but until a few decades ago it was) and yes, when I go for walks in the countryside just north of me, there are lots and lots of birds. And of course I have some cute sparrows nesting under my roof, just above my bedroom so I can hear all the goings-on among the babies who can be screaming for food day and night while their poor parents exhaust themselves hauling in insect after insect to feed them.


Aesthetic Movement

These plates were made in 1888 and are in the "Aesthetic Movement" style. This style started in the early 1870s (when this design was first brought out) and had its peak in the 1880s. The Aesthetic Movement was a rebellion against the rather pompous Victorian designs of the time. Rather than creating elaborate designs that used flowers and birds as passive elements to show off wealth and status, flowers, birds and or insects were brought to the heart of the design.


One trend within this movement was "Japonism", an increased interest in oriental designs that followed the opening up of Japan to trade with the West in the 1860s. The Japanese art that flooded the West inspired many artists and designers - you can see it for instance in Vincent van Gogh's famous Cherry Blossoms painting. While Western art tends to put the subject central to the image and builds everything around it within a defined space, the Japanese style tends to put the subject as part of a larger context, often showing movement and extending outside the window of the image. This creates a different focus; one with more sense of movement and context.


Minton "Essex Birds" plates

This "Essex Birds" pattern is such a design; the birds are the subject but not placed central, and there is a sense that what you don't see is as present as what you see - clearly the influence of Japanese wood prints.