I regularly peruse Brickshelf, a website that provides free webspace for LEGO fans from all over the world to share pictures of their creations. Back in September, I noticed a similar building style shared by a few Japanese LEGO fans--Makato (who seems to have since disappeared), Sugegasa, and Yuriko Hanai. Each of these illustrated a scene within a very small space. I thought this was a cool idea, and posted it on Classic-Castle (a site for LEGO castle fans).
A few days later I posted some vignettes of my own. The idea seemed to catch on. Over the next few weeks other Classic Castle members posted their vignettes. Soon the fad spread to other LEGO fan forums, and it was off to the races. Classic-Castle had a vignette category in our annual contest, and it was by far the most popular category, with 57 entries by 38 different builiders. Now, Lugnet, the most prominent AFOL site, has added a vignette newsgroup, giving vignettes a solid home in the AFOL world.
Anyway, that's the story. I feel a little bit of parental pride towards this area of building, at least how it has grown in the English-speaking part of the LEGOverse. There were obviously these Japanese builders who started me off (I do not know if they built independantly, or if they correspond via some Japanese-language forums--as far as I can tell they have never posted in the major English-language forums). Edit: I have recently found a website, The Art Museum of LEGO Vignette, that documents these Japanese creations. There have also been other MOCs that would be defined as vignettes (e.g. this trophy by Aaron Sneary). Heck, even some official sets could be technically called vignettes. But this current wave of building seems to have grown over the past five months.