Inspired by antiques: 18th-century porcelain botanical plates

Editorial Staff

This week I’ve turned my attention to a lot of three Chelsea porcelain plates dating from the late 18th century that are coming up for auction on Saturday June 20 at Pook & Pook in Downington, Pennsylvania. Each plate is decorated with leafy branches and tiny ladybugs and butterflies that capture the playful and animated side of the natural world. The smallest plate has even sprouted an organic twig-formed handle. Botanical motifs are nothing new in the decorative arts, but I’m drawn to the combination of naïve simplicity and modern asymmetry in this particular design.  I also find the mix of teal blue and kelly green leaves on a single leaf or branch especially compelling—pairing adjacent colors of the spectrum feels fresh from a decorating point of view.  Focusing on the leaf motif and leaving out the critters (a big trend from a few years back), let’s take a look at some pieces that capture the plates’ cheerful, garden-grown exuberance without veering into botanical kitsch:

“Windows” linen fabric by Josef Frank, price on request, available at Just Scandinavian
Originally designed in the 1940s & 1950s, Frank’s fabrics reveal a passion for botany and whimsy.  The large-scale repeat on this print mimics the plates’ frame-filling foliage.

“Homegrown Green” rug by Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, price on request, at The Rug Company
A more abstract approach to “green shoots,” this wool rug eschews a repeating pattern for a single bold statement, much like our plates’ vertical branches.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, $7.91,  at Amazon
The one critter that made my list is this iconic caterpillar.  Illustrator and author Eric Carle’s collage-style illustration and bold green-and-aqua color pairing feels modern some forty years after the book’s first printing.

“Leaf Blossom” quilt, $79.99, at Urban Outfitters
This retailer’s selection of linens has no parallel for the price range. Here cheery green leaves and a pure white background are a departure from Urban’s typically muddy, 1970s-inspired palette.

“Fern Leaf” plate, $62, from John Derian
From the king of stylish decoupage, this simple, single leaf would make an eye-catching candy dish-or an ironic ashtray!

Madison armchair with green chain stitch upholstery, $899, at Pottery Barn
I love the idea of out-of-control vines climbing up a modern club chair.

“Moon Sycamore” leaf card, $5 each, available  at  American Forests
Correspondence doesn’t have to be cutesy: these preserved leaf notecards have graphic impact and are each one-of-a-kind.

With summer approaching, it’s prime time to visit the New York Botanical Garden. There the current exhibition, Georg Ehret: The Greatest Botanical Artist of the 1700s, is a perfect complement to these inspired picks!