An unusual twelve-panel coromandel lacquer screen

清康熙   款彩十二扇屏風

The twelve panels comprising the front of the screen share a border of baskets and vases of flowers, and bogu tu antiques, between an outer band of chi dragons and an inner band of archaistic scrollwork. Within this common border the panels are discontinuous, superbly carved and filled with colour in the kuancai technique with a variety of scenes, including one with ladies in a palace, two with horsemen in a landscape, three with scenes of Daoist imagery, four with birds amid flowers and rockwork, and two end panels with further bogu tu antiques. The reverse is undecorated, later painted with simulated Chinese characters and numbered in sequence I – XII.

Christie’s New York, 22nd November 2011, lot 51
Northrop Grumman Corporation Collection
Acquired from Mallett, New York in the 1980s

Various suggestions have been made to explain the make-up of this screen. One is that some panels – the ones with birds – have been reversed and were originally back panels, but this fails to explain the different types of scenes on the remainder of the panels. Another is that it was a “sampler” screen, so that prospective purchasers could choose which type of imagery they preferred. Or perhaps, originally, the current twelve panels were selected from a pair of screens. Whatever the explanation, it is clear from the consistent high quality of the carving and the common border that the panels began life together, and still make a remarkably handsome, if enigmatic, coromandel screen.

Dimensions: Each panel: Height: 263 cm, 103 inches; Width: 48.2 cm, 19 inches

Date: Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722)

Stock No. 1837

Price: On Request