the panel elaborately decorated with the motif of 'The Hundred Antiques' against a dense geometric ground comprising squares and hexagons, the squares enclosing a wan symbol, the hexagons enclosing an 'S'-scroll, the scene decorated with an exquisitely assembled array of miscellaneous objects emblematic of 'Hundred Antiques', including a blue and white vase in the centre with large peony blooms issuing from within, the vase intricately depicted with blue and white lotus and lingzhi scrolls, the vase surrounded by various vessels, including a further vase and ritual vessels of varying forms, including jue and ding, some resting atop stands, the group of vessels flanked with a wide range of objects including piles of books, scrolls, pot plants, a vertically-oriented scholar's rock as well as different fruits, such as grapes and finger-citrons, the detail precisely picked out in the 'qiangjin' and 'tianqi' (‘gold-engraved and filled-in’) technique, the panel set within a frame of corresponding form incised with lotus blossoms and angular scrolls
This exquisite panel is striking for its intricate and meticulous decoration. Each flower bloom is naturalistically rendered and the sense of luxurious delicacy is captured through the shallow grooves that are filled with gold. Lacquer wares of the Kangxi reign perfected techniques in use during the preceding Ming dynasty (1368-1644). While the qianjin
(‘gold-engraved and filled-in’) method was known from at least the 3rd century AD, it grew in popularity during the Jiajing and Wanli reigns. This technique, which involved the inlaying of gold leaves to delineate motifs that were filled with coloured lacquer, allowed craftsmen to achieve attractive shading effects in vibrant colours within clearly defined forms, as evident on leaves and flower sprays of this panel. Highly laborious and time-consuming, this technique was more commonly used on objects of small size and only rarely on Palace furnishings.
Details such as the vase and flower blooms embody the superb level of workmanship achieved by craftsmen working in the lacquer medium during the Kangxi reign. Panels of this type were probably made in the Lacquer Workshop belonging to the Zaobanchu (Imperial Palace Workshop), which was formally re-established on the 32nd year of the Kangxi reign, corresponding to 1693, and located within the Forbidden City near the Emperor’s private residences. Staffed with the most experienced and skilled craftsmen in charge of producing the finest works of art and furnishings for the Palace, this close proximity allowed the emperor to scrutinise their products closely, thus ensuring high standards.
Panels of this type are very rare and the present piece represents one of the earliest examples of wall panels which grew in popularity in the succeeding Yongzheng (1722-1735) and Qianlong (1735-1796) reigns. Compare furniture decorated with the qianjin and tianqi technique and attributed to the Kangxi reign, such as a pair of chairs, the splat incised with birds perched on flower sprays, from the Manno Art Museum, Osaka, sold in these rooms, 10th April 2006, lot 1820; a stand decorated with dragons, sold in our London rooms, 9th November 2011, lot 38; and a throne, from the Arthur M. Sackler collection, sold at Christie’s New York, 1st December 1994, lot 173, and again at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th May 2007, lot 1395.