During the 17th and 18th centuries, the royal courts of Europe employed “table deckers”, who decorated the side tables at royal banquets having adapted the craft of ‘bonseki’ from the Japanese. The table deckers sprinkled coloured sands, marble dust, sugars, etc. upon the surface of plain white tablecloths to create unfixed pictures of fruit, flowers, birds and rustic scenery. In between each design spaces were left for fruit bowls and sweetmeat dishes so that the diners could refresh themselves in between the main courses of the feast. These ornate pictures were discarded along with the debris of the meal.
As a fine example of the table deckers’ craft, Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, England possesses an ornate folding screen with three panels, decorated with sand pictures protected by glass. The centre one has five spaces for sweetmeat pyramid dishes while the two side leaves of the screen have three spaces for fruit trays. There are four sand pictures in each corner of the side panels of the screen, featuring 18th-century pastoral scenes, while the remaining areas of the screen are decorated with butterflies, doves, fruit, flowers, etc. The screen would be laid upon the surface of a side table. It doubled as a serving base for elaborate porcelain dishes and glass trays containing fruits, bonbons and sweetmeats, from which the hosts and their guests could help themselves while socializing or stretching their legs between the multiple courses being served on the main table in the dining hall. This screen may have been the work of the German artisan F. Schweikhardt, who specialised in still-life studies in the style of the Dutch painter Jan van Huysum.