This exceptional screen has a magnificent pictorial panel created with carved and applied elements in painted ivory. The scene depicted on the screen is the famous Guanghan Palace of Xi Wangmu (the Queen Mother of the West), which legend says is high in the Kunlun Mountains, overlooking the Kingfisher River.
Xiwangmu is a Daoist deity, whose palace is known for its size and beauty, and for its gardens in which grew a fabulous peach tree. The tree bore magical peaches, which took 3,000 years to ripen, but which conferred immortality upon anyone who ate them. Specifically the screen shows the banquet that was held when the peaches had ripened. This event was proclaimed on Xiwangmu's birthday when all the immortals were invited to the Pantao hui (The Feast of Peaches) to celebrate by the eating of exotic delicacies and by enjoying musical performances. The screen shows a multitude of immortals who are shown arriving from different directions to offer felicitations on her birthday.
At the lower left hand side of the panel is the sage Laozi. The renowned Daoist master was the curator of the archives at the court of the Zhou dynasty. He is said to have instructed Confucius on points of ceremony [the later was so impressed with his teacher that he compared him to a dragon that rises to heaven]. Observing the decline of the Zhou dynasty, Laozi left the court and went to the West. What became of him had not been known until he was pictured entering the Island of Immortals on the back of a bull.
The Eight Immortals, Baxian, appear together in smaller groups. Cao Guojiu, patron Immortal of actors, is depicted in official robes and hat, wearing castanets and a fang feather. Near him, holding flute and gourd, is Han Xiangzhi, the Immortal patron of musicians who has the power to make flowers grow instantaneously. Emerging from the sea foam, standing on his right leg on the back of a sea creature, is Kui Xing, with a brush in his right hand. Next to him, an Immortal is travelling on the back of the carp-dragon.
The main group of deities is on the terrace, built upon high open ground, overlooking the surrounding landscape. In the centre of the group is Shou Lao, God of Longevity. He is carrying a crooked walking stick with a head of a dragon and a very large peach - a wish for a long and healthy life. He is surrounded by the Immortals holding their attributes: Fu Xing, Star God of happiness holding a ruyi, Lan Caihe with a flower basket, Zhongli Quan with a fan which has power to revive dead souls, He Xiangu with a stalk of lotus, and Lu Dongbin with a sword, the patron Immortal of literature and barbers. They are offering their respects and various gifts to Shou Lao to safeguard their immortality. A lone figure is hiding behind the rocks. This is the monkey Sun Wukong, preparing to steal the peaches of immortality.
An ivory-inlaid standing screen in the Palace Museum, Beijing, which depicts a similar scene is illustrated in Bamboo, Wood and Ivory Carvings, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 2002, vol. 44, p.244, no. 195. Another pair of similar carved ivory-inlaid screens, also from the Palace Museum Collection, Beijing, was included in the exhibition La Cité Interdite, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris, 1996, illustrated in the Catalogue, nos. 113 and 114. Compare, also to an ivory and jichimu inlaid standing screen sold at Christie's London, 7 November 2006, lot 65.