The present dish belongs to a distinct group of carved lacquer wares known as 'two-bird' dishes. Although the species of birds and flowers vary from dish to dish, they are almost invariably decorated with the same compositional layout of a pair of birds in flight against a floral background on the interior, and the reverse side with a classic scroll or 'fragrant scroll', xiangcao. Compare a slightly larger (30 cm.) carved black lacquer dish in the collection of the British Museum (fig. 1), illustrated by H. Garner, Chinese Lacquer, London, 1979, no. 44. It is nearly identical to the present lot in subject matter, layout and carving quality, and the author confidently assigns it a 14th century date, citing the competent, free and vigorous workmanship not seen on later examples.
Two other dishes of this 'two-bird' type are illustrated ibid.; p. 107, no. 43, a dish of similar size (31.7 cm.) in the collection of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, carved from black lacquer with two pheasants on a ground of hibiscus, also dated to the 14th century; and p. 109, no. 45, another 14th century red lacquer dish (32.6 cm.) in the collection of the British Museum, carved with two peacocks against a ground of tree peonies.
See, also, the black lacquer dish dated to the Yuan dynasty, carved with two long-tailed birds amidst musk mallow flowers, stamped on the base with an eight-character mark, likely denoting the name of the owner in Japan, included in the exhibition, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1993, p. 80, no. 35. A related, though much larger (60 cm.), lobed dish carved with two kingfishers reserved on a much busier ground of lotus stems, leaves and blossoms, in the Ataka Collection, dated 14th-15th century, was included in the exhibition Toyo no Shikkogei, Tokyo National Museum, 8 October-23 November 1977, no. 454.
See, also, the carved red lacquer Yuan dynasty dish of similar size (31.1 cm.) with two long-tailed birds in flight amidst peonies, from the Lee Family Collection, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 3 December 2008, lot 2111.