Rare Coromandel screen now on display at Basildon Park

Basildon Park's Chinese lacquerware coromandel screen

For the first time in Basildon Park’s history, a rare 17th century Coromandel screen is on public display.

The Chinese lacquerware screen is one of few Coromandel screens left in the UK and one of the only ones remaining that is believed to have been made for the Chinese domestic market. 

Large folding Chinoiserie screens were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries amongst wealthy Europeans who desired an authentic setting for the newly popular pursuit of tea drinking. The screens were imported from China via the south east Indian port of Coromandel, which is how they got their name. 

Famous scene from Chinese mythology

Basildon Park’s Coromandel is thought not to have been made for export because of the scene picked out in relief and gold on the lacquerware: Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden. 

It depicts a famous gathering of scholars in the garden of the Emperor’s son-in-law in the 1100s. Only a Chinese audience would have understood the reference.

Chinese lacquerware coromandel screen
Close up of Basildon Park's Coromandel screen
Chinese lacquerware coromandel screen

Half of the screen is missing

Basildon Park’s Coromandel screen originally consisted of 12 panels, but only six remain. No-one knows where the other six panels reside, but it is known that many Coromandels were cut down to create other pieces of furniture. 

The screen was purchased by Lady Iliffe at auction. Lord and Lady Iliffe were the last residents of Basildon Park and rescued the mansion from dereliction in the 1950s. 

She acquired the elaborate screen to hide a toilet door from guests who entered the cloakroom. The cloakroom is not one of the public rooms, so it languished, unseen, for decades.

Chinese lacquerware coromandel screen
Close up of Basildon Park's Coromandel screen showing scholars around a table
Chinese lacquerware coromandel screen

The dilemma of the house team

Basildon Park’s house team have struggled with the dilemma of staying true to Lady Iliffe’s intention and wanting the beautiful screen to be seen and enjoyed by visitors. 

Their minds were made up when it became clear that the screen was starting to degrade due to environmental conditions in the cloakroom. The Coromandel now rests on the cusp of being able to be restored into something beautiful and being too far gone for repair. 

If you’d like to contribute to the restoration of the Coromandel, please get in touch at basildonpark@nationaltrust.org.uk.