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Photo 1. Screen Decoration; applied cloisonné Calligraphic Banquet Poem copying a famous poem from 1682.

Photo 1. Screen Decoration; applied cloisonné Calligraphic Banquet Poem copying a famous poem from 1682.

It may not seem an essential piece of furniture, but an attractive floor screen can easily transform any living space and add dimension to your interior. Coco Chanel recognized the appeal as she famously sought out dozens of antique lacquered screens to adorn her Paris abode. Even Yves Saint Laurent favored the glamour of parchment panels by the designer Jean-Michel Frank. Many interior designers also agree that a thoughtfully placed screen can add drama and mystery to a space.

Whereas drama is not an essential component to a living space, the screen served practical functions as well. From as early as the third century B.C., the screen adorned imperial palaces in China, and was known to not only block drafts but shield the heat of embers in the Victorian period. Even the needlepoint fire screen became the focal point in Victorian homes as it displayed the embroidery skill of the homemaker.

While English and American screens were primarily framed woven panels intended for re-directing heat from the fireplace, Asian screens were hand-painted wooden panels that served purely as decoration. Artists in both China and Japan joined multiple panels to create elaborate scenes of painted imagery using gold and silver leaf to reflect the light of oil lamps. In the 17th century these painted and lacquered panels soon became symbols of wealth as English and Dutch tradesman began supplying Europe with these exotic decorations.

The Chinese Coromandel screens, named for the Indian coast where they were loaded onto ships for export, were ebonized folding lacquered panels often decorated in gold and frequently applied with specimen stones illustrating in-depth landscapes featuring figures at leisure in gardens and pavilions. In contrast, Japanese screens of the 19th century were often decorated with naturalistic imagery in gold detail on silk panels.

Today modern screens can reconfigure a room, create a dramatic backdrop or establish an entirely different mood.  Whether they are relief carved, perforated wood panels or Modern molded plywood screens by Charles and Ray Eames, a screen can add an architectural element where one doesn’t exist. Perhaps it’s the versatility that makes screens so desirable.  You can rearrange them, transfer them to another room or fold them up for storage. Unlike the walls we live within, you can even take them with you.

Photo 2. Detail; a 19th Century Chinese Eight-Panel Folding Screen in the Kangxi style.

Photo 2. Detail; a 19th Century Chinese Eight-Panel Folding Screen in the Kangxi style.

The above article was written by Martine M. White of Bernards Appraisal Associates, LLC, in Gladstone, New Jersey. Ms. White is a Senior Certified Appraiser of Antiques & Decorative Arts with the American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America. Ms. White has been appraising personal property in the Metropolitan area since 1988. Martine and her associates specialize in appraising fine art, antique furniture, Oriental carpets, silver and jewelry. Martine can be reached at 908.234.1153.

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