Pair of Folding Screens

Pair of folding screens with painted decoration on paper. The screens are made up of six leaves representing figures in a landscape decorated with pine trees and enhanced with gold leaf. On each of them is a cherry tree in bloom, indicating that the scene takes place in early spring.

On the first screen, several groups of figures, each holding a bunch of flowers in their hands, play and talk. On the fourth sheet, two young women sit and appear to be receiving flowers from a kneeling man’s hand, while two other figures on the right look on.

On the second screen, a couple with their household seem to be admiring the cherry blossoms. They are mirrored by the two women on the first screen.

The two scenes depicted are from the book The Dream in the Red Pavilion. The last of the four great novels of classical Chinese literature written by Cao Xueqin in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty, it is a true masterpiece of literature. An autobiographical work, it traces the social prestige, political power and then the decline of the Cao family.

This novel focuses on the aristocratic Manchu family of Jia and in particular on the love between the young hero Jia Baoyu and his cousin Lin Daiyu (love thwarted by the death of the latter). This predestined drama takes its source in a previous life.

The story begins when a mysterious Rock was abandoned by the goddess Nugüa after she repaired an accidental breach in the celestial vault. Later, a mysterious Buddhist monk (symbol of Renunciation of Pleasure) and a Taoist monk (symbol of Moderation of Pleasure) came to sit in the shadow of the Rock and discuss vividly “the glory, luxury, wealth and honors of the world of glowing dust”. Borrowing the human language, the Rock begged the Bonze and the Monk to let him know the pleasures of the human world. The Bonze and the Monk answered him that they would take him with them but that at the end of his trials, he would return to his primitive nature, that is to say that of Roc.

Much later, in the heart of an illustrious family of incredible wealth, close to the imperial power and exercising for this one great state offices, was born a male child, human incarnation of the Rock, to which one gave at once the name of Magic Jia Jade, in Chinese Jia Baoyu. The very numerous Jia family is divided into two main branches: the one that lives in the State Peace Palace (宁国府/ 寧國府, Níngguó fǔ) and the one that lives in the State Glory Palace (荣国府/ 榮國府, Róng guófǔ). The two palaces, with their dazzling gardens, are two huge adjacent residences, and it is undoubtedly the latter that is represented on each of the two screens.

The byōbu (Japanese screens made of several articulated sections) gained popularity during the Edo period due to the growing interest of the population in arts and crafts. These screens decorated the homes of samurai and the wealthy classes: they announced the rank, wealth and power of the owner. The byōbu screens differ according to the number of leaves. The six-leaf screen is called the rokkyoku byōbu. The growing interest in the byōbus is leading to important changes in their manufacture: decorations made of gold leaf and colorful paintings representing nature and scenes of everyday life.

Japan – Edo Period (1603 – 1868)

Height  48.8 inch – Length 122.8 inch – Width 20.5 inch