OLD SCREENS REFLECT DESIGN STYLES OF ERAS

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, April 2006 


Carved, gilt Art Nouveau four fold screen. Courtesy: James Julia Auctions, Fairfield, ME

For centuries artists have used screens, often like canvas, to paint, carve and weave designs of great beauty. Or to express the design motifs of the time. They often had a variety of purposes. There were standing floor screens to use as dressing room corners and decorative accessories Table screens, when framed, were used on walls as well.

Another type were fireplace screens. These were popular in the 19th century and had designs embroidered in Berlin wools. They were often framed with elaborate carved and gilded wood.

Until the late 17th century, carved wood screens were used primarily in churches. The earliest used to decorate homes were Coromandel lacquer screens imported from the east.

Next were leather screens made in Holland and Spain. In 18th century France, panel and carved screens were made. Usually they were carved at the sop and covered with tapestry, embroidery or other textiles that matched furnishings and wall coverings. Also popular were screens of painted canvas that feature the then, fashionable, pastoral scenes. They sometimes had small mirrors set at the top.

Leather screens came into use as early as the mid-15th century. From 1650 to 1800 they were made in the Netherlands or England. Most decorative were those made in England that tied in with the “chinoiserie” style, and had pagodas, Chinese figures and landscapes. Landscapes and flowering branches were also popular subjects. Often, the finer examples were embellished with gold or silver leaf. This gave the look of gilding when burnished and coated with a yellow lacquer. Often the background was punched using irons of different patterns. They were then sewn together. All were joined together on a wood frame with brass nails. They were so popular in 18th century London that many workshops were placed together in malls where potential customers could choose from many workshops.

By the mid 18th century London tastes had changed. The main buyers were from overseas. Screens copied the Chinoiserie and French pastoral scenes on canvas or framed popular wallpaper designs.

In the early 19th century a Regency touch was added to the Chinoiserie designs. Coaching and pastoral landscapes became popular subjects for Victorian homes By the 1880s stained glass was the new innovation. The Gothic revival caught the eye of designers in England, where it became an art form. In America decorating firms like Christian Herter were hard at work to fill the growing demands of the public with colorful glass designs.

Carved and painted floor and table screens , made in China and Japan in the late 19th century continued to be made and exported.

At the same time in Europe, particularly Belgium,. Art Nouveau motifs sprang up in all types of furniture, including screens Curving lines with the emphasis on nature subjects were the new look using lacquers, enamels , cloth and carved wood.

By the early 20th century the simple designs of the Arts and Crafts had replaced Art Nouveau. The material was often burlap appliquéd or painted with characteristic designs of flowers and trees. Often the panels were machine woven.

The emergence of Art Deco created elegant black lacquer screens with designs in gilt and silver, as well as bright reds, blues and greens.

CLUES: Leather screens may not be as old as they look. During the Arts and Crafts period there was a revival of medieval designs , with figures reminiscent of the then popular King Arthur legends. They are often sold as being hundreds of years old. These days they are being made in Mexico. Art Deco styles have been reproduced to over a decade. They can be pricey so know your seller.


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