These magnificent japanned mirrors are closely related to the oeuvre of the Berlin lacquerer Gerhard Dagly, who was active in Berlin in the early 18th century. At this date, Dresden was also a recognized center for the creation of japanned furniture, but the character of the figural compositions of the mirrors is less rigurously bound to the Chinese prototypes than Dresden examples. The combination of palm-trees and large 'exotic' flowers with Chinese figures is more comparable to chinoiserie work that was made in Berlin, such as a number of tray top tables and a jardiniére made shortly after 1713 (W. Holzhausen, Lackkunst in Europa, Munich, 1982, pp. 198-199, fig. 146-147). Those japanned objects are attributed to the workshop of Gerhard Dagly (d. 1715), which is believed to have continued after Dagly's departure from Berlin to Paris in 1713.
Dagly became celebrated following his appointment in Berlin in the 1680s as Kammerkustler to Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg (d. 1688). Dagly was afterwards appointed Intendant des Ornements at the court of Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg, later Frederick I of Prussia. (H. Huth, 'Lacquer Work by Gerhard Dagly', Connoisseur, vol. 95, 1935, p.14).
Dagly and his brother Jacques provided japanned furnishings of exceptional quality to Frederick I and his court, on one occasion the Kurfustin of Hanover sending an English clock-case to her son-in-law and feeling bound to mention that 'Dagly makes much better ones' (H. Honour, Chinoiserie: The Vision of Cathay, London, 1961, p. 66).
ORIGINS OF JAPANNING IN EUROPE
The fashion for chinoiserie dates back to the 17th century after the restoration of Charles II in 1660, when trade with the Far East flourished and there was a tremendous demand for Chinese lacquer screens, cabinets and chests. To satisfy this demand, English and Continental cabinet makers developed japanning in imitation of true Asian lacquer. European artists found inspiration in contemporary images of Asia, such as those engraved and published by the Dutch East Indies Company. These alluring travelogues provided abundant, if not entirely accurate, documentation for European artists. One such illustrated account was published by a Dutchman, Johan Nieuhof, in 1669, following an ambassadorial visit to the 'Great Tartar Chan', in 1665. John Stalker and George Parker's 'A Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing' (1688) was highly influential and provided instruction and a range of enticing images of the East for English and European craftsmen, as well as for amateur practitioners.
German rulers were passionate about chinoiserie, and built special pavilions and rooms dedicated to their exotic tastes. Friedrich III of Brandenburg had three Porzellanzimmer built, one at the Oranienburg, and two at Charlottenburg, just outside Berlin. Elector Max Emanuel also had constructed at his palace at Nymphenburg the Pagodenburg, a chinoiserie pavilion built by his court architect Joseph Effner. Augustus the Strong, who had formed the Meissen manufactory to imitate Chinese porcelain, was no less enthusiastic about chinoiserie decoration. In addition to building a number of palaces around Dresden lavishly decorated in the chinoiserie taste, in 1710 he hired Martin Schnell, who had trained under Dagly, as court 'lacquermaster' and provided him with a workshop dedicated solely to the production of lacquer.
These pier-glasses have triumphal-arched and richly fretted frames enriched with mother-of-pearl and japanned in trompe l'oeil lacquer, and reflect the 17th century India or Chinois fashion popularised by East India Trading Companies. They relate to a japanned frame for a Parisian glass, that incorporates veneer cut from Japanese Namban and pictorial lacquer, and that originally formed part of an English 17th century bedroom apartment pier-set furnishings. The latter, formerly belonging to the Spencer family, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, (see P. Thornton and J. Hardy, The Spencer Furniture at Althorp, Apollo, March, 1968, p.179; and O. Impey and C. Jrg, Japanese Export Lacquer, Amsterdam, 2005 fig. 572). A pier-glass of the present pattern, and mostly japanned with similar figures, was formerly in the possession of Messrs. Aveline, Paris (see A. Gonzales-Palacios, Il Tempio del Gusto, Milan, 1986, p.338 figs. 724 and 724).
Further closely related mirrors, probably executed in the same workshop, include that formerly with William Redford, sold from the Collection of Lord and Lady White of Hull, 8 April 2004, lot 739 ($220,300) and another with Alexander & Berendt, sold Christie's London, 10 June 1993, lot 57.