Lot 3301. A kingfisher feather and hardstone screen, Qing dynasty, 19th century; overall 107 by 64 by 29 cm., 42 by 25 1/4 by 11 1/2 inEstimate 600,000 — 800,000 HKDLot Sold 884,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.

composed with a pair of long-tailed pheasants perched upon a green rock, accompanied by two other smaller birds and a flying bat, beneath a tree bearing peaches and pomegranates, with peonies, roses and chrysanthemums growing on the ground, the flower petals made of coral, white jade, and quartz, the fruit made of amber and smokey quartz, the feathers of the birds, leaves, tree trunks, and rocks all made from bird feathers, including the bright turquoise kingfisher feathers with semi-precious inlays for the centre of the flowers, all set in a carved zitan frame mounted on a black cloth ground and behind glass.

Provenance: Sotheby's Hong Kong, 27th October 1992, lot 269.

Note: Exquisite furnishings of this type were favoured by the gentry and this screen is notable for its extensive use of the precious kingfisher feather to recreate a scene after bird paintings. The opulence of the scene is heightened by the inclusion of kingfisher feathers, which was an expensive and labour-intensive medium. For related screens depicting birds amongst branches against a black velvet ground, see one sold at Christie's New York, 20th March 1997, lot 217; and a pair sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27th April 1997, lot 557. A much larger example is pictured in situ in Chang Chun Gong (Palace of Eternal Spring), illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (II), Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 259.

The technique of inlaying feathers is called dian cui, meaning 'dotting the kingfishers', whereby the feather is cut into shape and adhered to the base. The intense blue colour of the feathers comes not from pigments in the feather itself but in the way light is bent back and reflected back to the eye. The most expensive and highest quality  works traditionally used feathers imported from Cambodia and it is said that Chinese imperial demand for the kingfisher feathers may have contributed to the wealth of the Khmer Empire.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 08 april 2011