Bonhams Prepares for Sale of a Rare Fascinating Masterpiece of Chinese art

Coming up on sale in Bonhams this Thursday 17 May at our Fine Chinese Art sale in London is a rare twelve-leaf double-sided ‘coromandel’ lacquer screen. Such screens were expensive and laborious to produce, and were aimed at high-ranking officials, scholars and gentry
A magnificent and rare twelve-leaf double-sided ‘Coromandel’ lacquer screen
Exquisitely decorated on the front with a detailed scene of court ladies within a palatial landscape, all enclosed within a border carved with the ‘Hundred Antiques’, the reverse depicting ‘one hundred birds courting the phoenix’, with a central pair of phoenix perched on rockwork beside flowering peony, with numerous other birds including egrets, crane, pheasants and mandarin ducks. overall 636cm (250 1/3in) wide x 203.8cm (80 2/8in) high.(12).

清康熙 褐漆彩繪樓閣園遊圖十二開屏風

Provenance: a Royal Collection


Palace scenes with ladies of the court were popular in the late Ming and early Qing periods. According to W.De Kesel and G.Dhont, these screens of palaces and ladies were often based on a frequently reproduced painting by Qiu Ying (1494-1552) known as ‘Spring Morning in the Han Palace’. See W.De Kesel and G.Dhont, Coromandel: Lacquer Screens, 2002, Gent, pp.48-49.

The popularity of scenes with predominantly female figures engaging in various activities including the ‘Four Arts of the Scholar’ may reflect changing models of feminine identity by the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, which in terms of cultural refinement, may have been considered almost equal to the male literati. Similar twelve-leaf screens, Kangxi, are illustrated by W.De Kesel and G.Dhont, ibid., pp.23,31,36.

The reverse scene depicts a pair of phoenix among various other birds. This embodies the popular and auspicious design of the ‘Hundred Birds Paying Tribute to the Phoenix’. According to Chinese legend, the phoenix is the King of all feathered creatures, appearing only in times of prosperity and peace. The subject also symbolises the wish for marital harmony by showing the phoenix as a pair.

Compare with a related twelve-leaf coromandel screen, Kangxi, with similar decoration of birds on one side, but a lengthy inscription on the reverse, which was sold at Sotheby’s London, 8 November 2017, lot 38; see also another twelve-leaf screen with similar decoration of birds and palace scenes, Kangxi, which was sold at Christie’s Paris, 21-22 June 2016, lot 399.