This cabinet, most probably made in northern Guangdong (Canton) in southern China for the Straits Chinese market of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, was used to house ancestor tablets that honoured the souls of the departed. It would have been placed on a household’s altar.
It comprises a black lacquer cabinet with two hinged doors, as well as internal fittings that include a miniature table on which the memorial tablets can stand. The doors are inset with four panels each carved in high relief with phoenixes, flowers and other motifs, and gilded.
Elaborately carved friezes of flowers are at the top and bottom of the cabinet as well. The cabinet sits on a low foot carved at the front with rococo-like flourishes with gilt highlights.
The doors open to reveal a small lacquer and gilt table on which the ancestor tablets stood, as well as a gilded, carved fringe to the sides and top of the interior.
The back of the interior is decorated with a black and gold backdrop as if it is a Chinese screen. This is decorated with a mountain, stream and hut scene.
The insides of the doors themselves have separate panels carved along their full length with phoenixes. The presence of such prominent phoenixes points to a Straits Chinese provenance: the phoenix motif was particularly favoured by the Straits Chinese.
This example is in fine condition. The only loss to the carving is a two centimetre loss to one of the internal fringes.
A similar example was sold by us in 2007 to the Art Gallery of South Australia is illustrated in Bennett, 2007, p. 136-7.
Bennett J., Beneath the Winds: Masterpieces of Southeast Asian Art in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2011. :UK art market