Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn looks an item used for modesty that originated in China...
With Christmas around the corner, you can imagine the romance and nostalgia of getting into your special party outfit behind this!
Dressing screens (or folding screens as they are also known), originated in China and spread across East Asia to Europe and then to other places of the world.
Most dressing screens are manufactured in separate panels held together by hinges. Early examples were often decorated with the most beautiful and intricate art, with themes from nature or mythology. Dressing screens are often
associated with romance.
Lots of old novels make reference to a demure lady, shyly peering out from behind a screen. There’s a hint of sexiness there, but the nostalgia of bygone times makes the idea of dressing screens romantic and idealistic, not sleazy.
Screens were originally made from wooden panels that were delicately painted or enamelled and later they were made from paper and silk.
With the silk examples, it’s very easy to see the Asian influences within the art and decoration.
It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th Century that screens started being imported from China into Europe. It is well known that the French like to think of themselves as a nation of lovers, so it’s obvious that they would love these oriental screens and so they began importing them (with lacquered decoration) in large quantities.
The most famous collector of folding dressing screens was Coco Chanel who is said to have had 32 of them in her collection.
In Victorian times folding screens were first used as a practical way of preventing drafts in houses. Later, as heating improved, they became a way of generating privacy in a room. They would be set up to partition the room into two, which not only changed the shape, size and perception of the room, but also offered privacy where once there was none. Nowadays, with smaller houses and smaller rooms, dressing screens are purchased for decorative reasons and not really used as they were first
Collecting screens isn’t something I would recommend as obviously they are incredibly big and heavy and difficult to store. That said, the sheer beauty of these screens – especially the ones that were decorated by a renowned artist or revered decorators of the era – would make an incredible addition to any home and certainly be a talking point at parties!