JOHN MCPHEE EVALUATES READERS’ PRECIOUS OBJECTS.
I’VE ADMIRED this decorative tile for 70 years and love it. It belonged to my grandmother. The tile is 21cm by 13cm and 4mm thick. Is it Chinese? Any information would be great. Laurel Cooke, BUSSELTON, WA
This tile is undoubtedly Asian, but I can’t be certain if it is Chinese or Japanese. It probably dates from about 1900 and was likely made for the export market as a decorative item. It would originally have had a wooden frame, but it may also have been part of the decorative scheme for a piece of furniture. Usually the panels in decorated furniture are made from ivory and shell, but occasionally painted porcelain was used. The birds are depicted among orchids, chrysanthemums and flowering bamboo — an odd mixture of the Asian symbols for summer and autumn, supporting the idea that the tile was intended to be decorative and made for export to the West, where this mixture would not be noticed.
John Mcphee is an art historian who worked in art museums for 30 years and was curator of Australian Decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Australia.