Treasures: Eight-panel Coromandel Screen is an Eye-Catcher

This screen is magnificent, but its value is questionable.

This screen is magnificent, but its value is questionable.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

My Chinese Coromandel screen is quite large at 8 feet tall with eight panels that are each 22 1/2 inches wide. It made an amazing impression hanging on my living room wall when my ceilings were very high, but in my current home, I only have 8-foot ceilings and I would like to sell the screen. It is gilded on one side and simply painted on the other. It has a few chips on the legs of a couple of panels but otherwise it is in excellent condition. What should I value it for when I sell it?

Thank you,

P.A., Acton

Dear P.A.:

We hate to get involved in commercial transactions because they can vary so much from location to location and from time to time. What we can offer you is an opinion based on two photographs that are nice but fail to show us the detail we might need to make a definitive judgment.

Although addressing this piece is a tad risky, we will tackle this subject because it is such a beautiful piece and we have never discussed the subject of a Coromandel screen before. Unfortunately, most of the ones we see on a day-to-day basis are not really old, but we feel this one may very well be early 20th century.

We have no details about how long this screen has been in P. A.’s possession, but we think it may be from the late Qing dynasty or Republic period, which means it was possibly made in the vicinity of 1910 to 1930. But without an in-person inspection, it’s impossible to tell about this dating with any certainty, and it may actually turn out to be post-World War II.

“Coromandel” is kind of a funny word. Does it refer to a material, or perhaps a technique of making these Chinese lacquer screens? No, Coromandel is a place in India that is located along the southeastern coast of the country, with the southernmost end facing the island of Sri Lanka (once called Ceylon).

It was here along the Coromandel coast that European nations (England, France, the Netherlands and Denmark) competed for the trade coming out of both India and China. In particular, cargos from China were often consolidated here before being transshipped to Europe. Because of this, Chinese lacquerwares — particularly boxes, chests and screens — became known as “Coromandel goods” in the 18th century.

We do not believe that this screen actually saw the Coromandel coast, but was exported by another route. It is, however, a beautiful example of Chinese lacquerware with the front scene of a variety of birds – some nesting, some strutting around – among flowering trees with a margin or border of archaistic objects based on the Buddhist “100 antiques” theme.

The back is far less spectacular and looks like it needs a good cleaning. Collectors often prefer 12-panel Coromandel screens, and examples that are less tightly drawn, more imaginative and with easily recognizable handwork. But this eight-panel example is certainly an eye-catcher. Assuming our evaluation of the age is correct, we believe if the piece were sold at auction in either Los Angeles or San Francisco, it would fetch somewhere in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.

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