Coromandel lacquer, or kuancai in Chinese, emerged as early as the 16th century in China and was first aimed at the domestic market. It was a new innovation and a challenge 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.
This present inscribed screen, which can be dated to the Kangxi period, is of exceptional quality and one of the finest examples of its kind. The front scene, depicting a pair of highly unusual phoenix among various other birds, embodies a popular and auspicious design Bai Niao Chao Feng, ‘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 symbolizes a wish for marital harmony by showing the phoenix as a pair. The inscription to the reverse is dedicated to a senior dignitary named Wang, who was, according to the text, an important military officer of the Fujian province during the early Kangxi period. It states that the screen was given to him as a birthday present by another dignitary of the region, Mr Zhang Xiong. The commemorative dedication comprises a biography tracing the history of remarkable events of Wang’s life and numerous names of other military officers of the region.
Compare to a screen of this type decorated with the eight scenic views of Hangzhou, which also has a lengthy dedicatory inscription bearing a Kangxi date corresponding to 1670 on the reverse, in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, is illustrated by Hai-wai Chen, Chinese Art in Overseas Collections; Lacquerware, National Palace Museum, Taiwan, 1987, pp. 182 - 3, no. 177). Compare a twelve-panel screen painted with a related design of 'Hundred Birds Paying Tribute to the Phoenix', illustrated by W. De Kesel, Coromandel Lacquer Screens, p. 60, which was previously sold in our Monaco Rooms, 17 June 2000, lot 108. Another Coromandel screen of the same subject is displayed in Coco Chanel’s apartment, 31 rue Cambon, Paris.