The kuancai technique, or Coromandel lacquer as known in the West, emerged in the 16th century and was aimed at the domestic market. It was a new innovation for Chinese lacquer craftsmen to produce large and highly decorative screens more economically, in order to replace the very expensive and labour-intensive lacquer screens decorated with mother-of-pearl inlays. The technique relates to that of cloisonné enamel where raised outline form cloisons which are then infilled with colour.
The scene on the front of the present lot, depicting a pair of phoenix (fenghuang) among various other birds, is a very popular and auspicious design. The phoenix, in Chinese mythology, is the king of all feathered beings, appearing only in times of prosperity and peace, and as it emerges all birds under heaven will come and pay tribute to it. The scene also contains a wish for marital harmony by showing the phoenix as a pair. The beautifully featured and finely detailed architeture of the garden scene on the other side of the screen is characteristic of 18th century Coromadel screens, as on later screens the execution of the architecture tend to become less well-conceived and detailed. The size of later screens also tend to be smaller and with less panels, often only eight or six.
Compare a twelve-panel screen painted with a related design of 'Hundred Birds Paying Tribute to the Phoenix', Bainiao Chao Huang, illustrated by W. De Kesel, Coromandel Lacquer Screens, p. 60, which previously sold Christie's Monaco, 17 June 2000, lot 108.