A look at how decorative screens stretched across the centuries, from the gilded heavyweigh­ts of ancient China to vivid canvases for modern art


1. Sometime before and around the 2nd century, Chinese artists begin using sizeable panels hinged with leather or cloth straps as canvases for high art. Exuberantl­y lacquered and gilded versions follow, like this one hanging in Coco Chanel’s Paris study.

2. The Japanese adapt their neighbors’ invention for more practical purposes: as stand-ins for interior walls. By the 10th century, they hit their decorative stride as paper and silk stretched over wood (1600s example by Tawaraya Sōtatsu).

3. Leather rises as the material of choice in 14th-century Europe, where stamped, embossed, and painted versions (like this Dutch screen repurposed as wall art by Michael S. Smith) emerge with gusto.

4. By the 17th-century, folding screens are so ubiquitous in French aristocrac­y that they frequently pop up in paintings of the period. Here, young lovers flirt behind silk panels that match the wallpaper.

5. The screen is commandeer­ed as the chief medium for namban, a style of art that hybridized Japanese and Western painting techniques as a vehicle for learning (1590–1630). Map artistry adapts well to the panels’ sizable canvas.

6. Chinoiseri­e wallpaper blankets Europe through the 17th and 18th centuries, engulfing screens in its wave of popularity. Here, an example in Edith Wharton’s Newport, Rhode Island, home.

7. Folding screens downsize in the late 1800s to the modest homes of middle-class Victorians, where privacy partitions (called “scrap screens” for their cut-paste ephemera) take on renewed, practical significan­ce.

8. One of the first paintings by Cubism pioneer Paul Klee appears on a circa-1900 screen, a continuous landscape of Switzerlan­d’s River Aare.

9. There’s little chance Bloomsbury’s early-20th-century innovators wouldn’t get in on the action; in East Sussex’s Charleston house salon, a painted screen of their design.

10. Art Deco lacquer artist Eileen Gray eschews the familiar traditions of Chinese Coromandel­s with this 1925 architectu­ral block screen.

11. Syrie Maugham’s “Party Room” at Kings Road is unveiled in 1932 and becomes the height of glamour, due in no small part to its glitzy mirrored screen.

12. Caribbean Tea Time, David Hockney’s vivid, large-scale lithograph divided over four panels, makes an electric debut in 1987, hailed as a modernist triumph.

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