A twelve-panel “Longevity Banquet” Coromandel lacquer screen

清康熙 十七至十八世紀    款彩群仙賀壽圖十二扇屏風

The screen is superbly carved with great vigour with an overall scene of Immortals gathering to pay homage to Shou Lao, the God of Longevity, who sits in the upper middle part of the scene, with a deer beside him and attendants around. On a rocky promontory below him the Eight Immortals and associated figures make their obeisance. The fairy Magu approaches in her celestial chariot of gnarled wood from one side, while Wang Ziqiao flies in on his crane from the other. From all corners, by land, sea and air, further Immortals arrive. To the bottom right, a six-tusked white elephant bearing flowers and lingzhi on its back appears from behind a pine tree, accompanied by a figure holding a basket of lingzhi and two further figures mounted on mythical beasts. The scene is enclosed by a border of the “Hundred Antiques” intermixed with sprigs of different flowers. The reverse is lacquered black.

Collection of Paul Morand
Palais D’Orsay, Paris, November 16th-17th 1977, Lot 90
Sotheby’s New York, September 16th, 2014, lot 206

Priestley & Ferraro, 'Symbol and Support.  The Elephant's Role in Chinese Art', November 2018, cat. no. 9

A closely related screen, dated to the seventeenth century, is illustrated by Nicole Brugier, Les Laques de Coromandel, pp. 82-83, and discussed p. 72 et seq. with two other screens showing similar scenes but in slightly differing styles. 

Magnificent large screens of this type have gone by many names in the West, with “Coromandel 
screen”, after the Coromandel coast in India, an important trading point between East and West, confusingly becoming the favourite. In fact, they were made at various centres in south-east China, and as we know from some which have inscriptions, were intended as grand gifts, usually for venerable officials. Properly they should be described bythe Chinese term, as kuancai screens, literally “cut out and coloured”.

The elephant depicted on the screen, with its white body and six tusks, is clearly the White Elephant of Buddhist tradition. Its presence on a screen decorated with Daoist Immortals is intriguing. That the Daoist tradition had simply appropriated the image of the White Elephant by this time, or that a point is being made, that Buddhism, too, must offer obeisance to Shou Lao, are possibilities. More probably, though, it was assumed that the intended recipient of the screen held, as most did at this time, a syncretistic view of religion, and that the addition of this Buddhist icon would add to the  generally auspicious flavour of the screen.

Dimensions: Height: 244 cm, 96 inches. Width of each panel: 49.5 cm, 19 ½ inches

Date: Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722), late 17th or early 18th century

Stock No. 2035

Price: On Request