See also : Furniture 18th century furniture Later Ming Dragon
Calendar : 16th century 1570-1599
Later Ming - Huanghuali
Highly appreciated by the Ming, the huanghuali is a tropical hardwood that enables to create furniture with bold shapes. Its color varies from reddish brown to golden yellow while its grains may display seductive pseudo-figurative patterns. Huanghuali literally means yellow pear tree flower.
It is believed that less that 10,000 pieces of furniture in huanghuali are still in existence. Its main source was in Hainan Island. The best pieces were made in the late Ming period and in the Ming-Qing transition. Most of them cannot be dated more precisely.
Wanli - Pair of Cabinets
2020 SOLD for HK$ 57M by Sotheby's
A pair of two-level cabinets with wardrobe and hatbox was sold by Sotheby's for $ 1.14M on September 22, 2005, lot 359. The lacquer is painted in gold, with pavilions and scholars in idyllic gardens. Each piece measures 330 x 160 x 70 cm and bears the imperial mark of Wanli.
A pair of three-level bookcases without doors was sold by Sotheby's for HK $ 11.8M on April 8, 2009, lot 1623. They are made of nanmu, one of the rarest woods which had the particularity of being impermeable to water. They are lacquered and richly gilded on a deep carving including pairs of dragons in the clouds. Each piece measures 151 x 91 x 50 cm and bears traces of the imperial mark.
A pair of cabinets that can be used as showcases or bookcases was sold by Sotheby's for HK $ 57M from a lower estimate of HK $ 4M on October 9, 2020, lot 75. They are in huanghuali with doors, a row of outer drawers and an upper three-level open compartment. Each piece measures 193 x 141 x 52 cm. They are of Wanli style without having the mark and are neither lacquered nor decorated.
2013 SOLD for $ 9.1M by Christie's
This table has a great matching of its top plank with the lower sections and it is believed that all its elements are original to each other. Its use as an altar table is probable but it could also have been used to display precious objects against a wall in a large hall.
It is certainly earlier than the Ming-Qing transition period when huanghuali went to be highly expensive from its increasing shortage so that its use in thick pieces had to be avoided.
Surviving examples of plank-top pedestal tables are very rare. Indeed they are easily demountable and often its elements did not survive together. Such furniture was conceived to be versatile, easy to move and to reassemble in a variety of configurations.
Set of four Armchairs
2015 SOLD for $ 9.7M by Christie's
The almost square back with the top rail in the form of a yoke or of an official's hat is the guanmaoyi. A pair with arms was sold by Sotheby's on March 23, 2011 for $ 2.77M from a lower estimate of $ 200K.
The quanyi, designating a chair with a circular back, is also known as the horseshoe-back armchair. The best craftsmen round the circle by reducing the number of elements of the crest rail, obtaining a rigidity which also makes it possible to optimize the stretchers. Despite an apparent lightness, their seats are strong.
On March 17, 2015, Christie's dispersed the Ellsworth collection. The bidders recognized the best qualities of a quanyi in the group of four that constituted the lot 41. Moreover the other two pairs that would make it possible to constitute a set of eight were identified in the catalog. That set was sold for $ 9.7M from a lower estimate of $ 800K.
Another homogeneous set of four quanyi in huanghuali from the Ming period passed at Christie's on September 13, 2019, lot 878, from a lower estimate of $ 800K.
Mr. Ellsworth's Extremely Rare and Important Set Of 4 Huanghuali Horseshoe-Back Armchairs realized $9.685million. pic.twitter.com/haHf0DKkvB— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) March 18, 2015
Horseshoe Back Folding Armchair, early example
2022 SOLD for HK$ 125M by Sotheby's
The Han already used folding stools. Much later, the quality and beauty of the wood distinguish the elites of higher rank, the huanghuali being the high-end. Such brass mounted furniture is fragile and seats in soft wood did not survive.
In the Ming dynasty, jiaoyi were made in two main forms of the back, the horseshoe and the much rarer square with or without arms.
The very elegant quanyi form of armchair is characterized by its horseshoe-shaped rail that serves altogether as backrest and armrest. The quanyi is better suited than other forms of Chinese armchairs for the creation of folding models, its front rail fitting into the curved support of the arms.
The use of a jiaoyi as an occasional imperial throne is likely under the Ming but was not illustrated until the Qing. A painting by Castiglione features the Qianlong emperor sitting on a folding armchair during a negotiation with Kazakh emissaries.
A jiaoyi of comfortable proportions and simple forms was sold for HK $ 125M from a lower estimate by Sotheby's on October 8, 2022, lot 11. Its size is 71 x 67 x 103 cm.
Its damascened iron strengthening places it in the earliest examples of late Ming horseshoe back folding armchairs. Its elegant plain backrest flanked with carved geometrical borders is unique in that group while the five other surviving examples have dragon or floral carvings.
#AuctionUpdate This weekend, a rare Huanghuali Folding Horseshoe-Back Armchair- offered from the collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung- soared to $15.9 million. The price is not only a record for a Chinese chair, but is also the third highest sum paid for any chair at auction. pic.twitter.com/J8SNw0F5Gd— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) October 10, 2022
Horseshoe Back Folding Armchair
2021 SOLD for HK$ 66M by Christie's
#AuctionUpdate A magnificent and exceedingly rare Huanghuali Folding Horseshoe-back Armchair from late Ming-early Qing dynasty, 17th Century, achieved HK$ 65,975,000 / US$8,542,001 -- a world record for a Huanghuali folding armchair. pic.twitter.com/GrvDuW4XFa— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) May 28, 2021
Set of four Folding Armchairs
2017 SOLD for £ 5.3M by Bonhams
2022 SOLD for HK$ 71M by Christie's
They served as a small altar for offering incense, but were also used to display sculptures and flower arrangements, or at night as a side table to support a candlelight.
Round lacquer incense stands appear to be the most common. Huanghuali is much rarer. The round stand is the xiangji.
A huanghuali xiangji raised on three elegantly shaped cabriole legs, 95 cm high overall and 45 cm in diameter, was sold for $ 5.8M by Christie's on March 16, 2017, lot 613. Cabriole legs are also referred as elephant trunk.
Also with cabriole legs, a five legged huanghuali xiangji 97 cm high overall with a 41 cm circular top panel was sold for HK $ 71M from a lower estimate of HK $ 6M by Christie's on November 29, 2022, lot 2806.
Pair of Zitan Cabinets
2013 SOLD 93 M RMB by Poly
At the time of the Qianlong emperor who was fond of it, the risk of shortage occasioned a specific attention brought to the supply of new lumber and to the preservation of previously made furniture and decoration.
On June 4, 2013, Poly sold for RMB 93M an exceptional pair of zitan cabinets of Qianlong period whose achievement was a real technical feat.
3.25 m high, these cabinets are among the tallest known zitan furniture, although another one 4.40 m high is preserved in Beijing. Its depth of 74 cm is also exceptional. The conception of these cabinets included slits in the boards of doors and sides to relieve the pressure.
There is no evidence that the origin of this pair of furniture is imperial, but they are finely carved in high relief with patterns of dragons and lotus.
2009 SOLD for HK $ 86M by Sotheby's
On October 8, 2009, Sotheby's sold a throne from the Qianlong period for HK $ 86M from a lower estimate of HK $ 20M, lot 1645.
This 1.40 m wide seat is decorated with motifs of the usual symbol of the Chinese Empire, the Dragon.
This wooden piece, although rare and prestigious, will not compare with the throne that adorned the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Also decorated with dragons, it was made of white marble and jade.
Lacquer Soft Wood Throne
2019 SOLD for £ 6.1M by Christie's
On May 14, 2019, Christie's sold for £ 6.1M from a lower estimate of £ 800K a wide lacquered armchair, lot 60. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This large piece of furniture is very finely chiseled on all its surfaces except of course on the seat proper, with a depth of lacquer that required 100 to 150 layers. In an extreme refinement, three colors were used, a classic cinnabar red for the surface and ochre and green in under-layers revealed by the carving.
With its opulence and dimensions, 111 cm high, 115 cm wide and 86 cm deep, this chair is an imperial throne. Its figures include nine five-clawed imperial dragons who pursue the flaming pearl in the clouds. The back side adds other auspices including bats and a pair of fish.
This type of throne was executed during the Qing dynasty, mainly during the reign of Qianlong. The imperial archives record during the ninth year of the reign, 1744 CE, the commission of a lacquered dragon throne which was attributed to a small palace used as an intimate theater lodge in the imperial city. This information does not allow an identification with the piece to be sold but it shows that these fragile furnitures were not ceremonial thrones.
The catalog of the next sale quotes in reference a similar Qing throne, probably earlier. Its lacquer consisted of red, black and green layers on a brown background and contained gold inclusions. This lot was sold for HK $ 13.8M by Christie's on May 29, 2007.
Marco Almeida, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art specialist in London, explains the craftsmanship, skill and dramatic detailed symbolism imbued in this magnificent three-coloured lacquer throne: https://t.co/2WeVsxyl4Y pic.twitter.com/13tHJHU7u8— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) May 13, 2019