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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.

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