Furniture and Furnishings
Chronology : 16th century 1570-1599 1730-1739 1770-1779 1920
Horseshoe Back Folding Armchair
2022 SOLD for HK$ 125M by Sotheby's
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.
The use of folding seats, easily transformable into sedan chairs. is very convenient for garden or travel. The folding chair is named jiaoyi meaning chair with crossed legs.
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
set of four Ming huanghuali armchairs
2015 SOLD for $ 9.7M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2019 before Christie's sale of another set (see below)
Highly appreciated by the Ming, the huanghuali is a 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.
A set of eight Ming seats in huanghuali would be the holy grail for a collector. I do not know if such a wonder remains in private hands and the submultiples, four and two, are much in demand. The consistency of colors and grains ensures the homogeneity of a group. The virtuosity of the craftsman is also considered.
The almost square back with the top rail in the form of a yoke or of an official's hat is the guanmaoyi. A set of four folding armless chairs was sold for £ 5.3M including premium by Bonhams on November 9, 2017 over a lower estimate of £ 150K. A pair with arms was sold by Sotheby's on March 23, 2011 for $ 2.77M including premium over 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. Lot 41 was sold for $ 9.7M including premium over 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.
Huanghuali Altar Table
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.
1726-1732 The Badminton cabinet
2004 SOLD 19 M£ including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
In 1726 the 3rd Duke of Beaufort, aged 19, makes his tour of Italy. He is extremely rich and desires to build an art collection. His stay in Florence was very short. It seems likely that a pre-existing project for a monumental piece of furniture was offered to him. He orders this piece, of which he has followed the make by his agents.
The piece of furniture is delivered to him in 1732. It will be known as the Badminton cabinet from the residence where the 3rd Duke installed it and where it stayed until 1990.
It was sold twice by Christie's : on July 5, 1990 for £ 8.6M including premium and on December 9, 2004 for £ 19M including premium, lot 260 (not illustrated online). It was acquired at this latter sale by Prince Hans Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein to become the central piece in the collection of pietra dura works in his private museum.
The Badminton cabinet is a piece of furniture with four superimposed ebony segments over eight pilasters, for a total height of 386 cm including the Beaufort coat of arms in finial. It is 232 cm wide and 94 cm deep.
The assembly of this piece is a tour de force of joinery. It is sumptuously decorated on front and lateral sides in pietra dura and semi-precious stones with floral themes including birds. The upper segment consists of a clock whose dial is later. The allegories of the four seasons in gilt bronze surround the clock.
#ThrowbackThursday The Badminton Cabinet was sold in July 1990 in London. Commissioned in 1726 by Henry Somerset, 3rd Duke of Beaufort, it took 6 years to make & was regarded as the greatest Florentine cabinet of its time. It is on display at the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna. pic.twitter.com/fTdEaJAm4e— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 16, 2020
Qianlong - A Masterpiece of Chinese Furniture
2013 SOLD 93 M RMB yuan including premium
On June 4 in Beijing, Poly International Auction sells 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.
The estimate is not announced, but this lot is undoubtedly a masterpiece of Chinese furniture.
POST SALE COMMENT
There was no doubt that this pair of cabinets of large size and plenty carving is a masterpiece of Chinese furniture, and even of international furniture. It was sold for RMB yuan 93M including premium, corresponding to U.S. $ 15M.
Qianlong - The Zitan Throne
2009 SOLD 86 MHK$ including premium
The emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties enjoyed a rare wood, the zitan (tzu-t'an in the old spelling), which allowed a very fine carving. The throne for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8 is a wide seat (1.40 m) with motifs of the usual symbol of the Chinese Empire, the Dragon. It dates from the Qianlong period and is estimated 20 MHK$, lot 1645.
This wooden throne, although rare and prestigious, will not compare with the throne that adorned the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Also decorated with dragons, it was made of white marble and jade.
POST SALE COMMENT
Imperial Chinese pieces get a huge prestige at auction. There are a score of recent examples. But no furniture is more prestigious than a throne: the result, 86 MHK$ including premium, is remarkable.
Here is this exceptional lot, shared after the sale by Art Market Monitor.
1772-1785 Desk-and-Bookcase from Rhode Island
1989 SOLD for $ 12M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
The Chippendale style succeeds the Queen Anne. John Goddard is probably the first to make the desk-and-bookcase which is an adaptation of the Block and Shell to the Chippendale. These pieces of furniture are not signed and very difficult to attribute to one or another master in that family. Nine examples in the six-shell design have survived, all of them in mahogany.
The Brown brothers were wealthy merchants and statesmen of Providence RI, involved in slave trade and smuggling. A Newport-style desk-and-bookcase that belonged to John Brown, 272 × 113 × 64 cm, is kept at Yale University. The piece that belonged to Nicholas Brown, 287 × 108 × 64 cm, is very similar. It had remained in the direct descent of its first owner and was sold for $ 12M including premium by Christie's on June 3, 1989.
For the attribution of these two pieces of furniture, it was noticed that Daniel Spencer, a nephew of John Goddard, had left Newport and established a workshop for the making of cabinets and chairs in Providence in 1772. The terminus ante quem is his imprisonment for debt in 1785. He ended his career in Kentucky.
1778 Commode Royale by Riesener
1999 SOLD for £ 7M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2019 before the sale of another commode by Christie's (see below)
Premises are dedicated to these operations. In 1757 King Louis XV decides to build a hotel specially conceived for storing the furniture. Operational in 1772 and completed in 1774, this masterpiece by Ange-Jacques Gabriel is today the Hôtel de la Marine, on Place Louis XV completed by the same architect in 1772 and later Place de la Concorde.
Successor to Oeben whose widow he married, Jean-Henri Riesener specializes in luxury furniture. In 1774 he is appointed Ebéniste ordinaire du mobilier de la couronne.
The top luxury is obviously reserved for the king. Two commodes are made respectively in 1776 and 1778 by Riesener for the cabinet of King Louis XVI in Fontainebleau. The price paid by the king for the earlier commode had been 6,870 livres. The total amount of sales by Riesener for the court from 1774 to 1784 exceeded one million livres.
The 1778 Fontainebleau commode was sold for £ 7M including premium by Christie's on July 8, 1999 over a lower estimate of £ 1.5M, lot 201. This à ressaut shaped piece 95 cm high, 165 cm wide, 63 cm deep is in ormolu-mounted amaranth, sycamore, mahogany, parquetry and marquetry.
On April 30, 2019, Christie's sold for $ 1.16M including premium a commode of similar size, shape and materials made in 1774 by Riesener for the chief officer of the Garde-Meuble. This piece had possibly been a prototype for the commodes royales.
<1920 Yves Saint-Laurent in an Armchair ... made by Eileen Gray
2009 SOLD 21.9 M€ including premium
It is a seat only 61 cm high. The sitting height is normal, but the back is small. It is large (91 cm), making it a comfortable chair. The press release from Christie's describes it as a Dragon armchair, certainly for the sculptures of its armrests. For this seat dating from about 1920-1922, prepare 2.5 million €.
In the work of Eileen Gray, other seats have generated one of the most remarkable results of auctions in recent years. On June 1, 2005 in Paris, Camard sold a set of six armchairs à la Sirène, for a total of nearly 9 million € charges included. Sold separately, these six lots were eventually divided between two buyers. They had belonged to Damia, the music hall singer woman with whom Eileen had a love affair. From a very different model from the chair of the Saint-Laurent collection, their sculpture of the women fish was enhanced by an open back.
Eileen Gray was renowned for the luxurious finish of her lacquered furniture.
The sale will be held at the Grand Palais in Paris from 23 to 25 February. It is jointly organized by Christie's and Pierre Bergé et Associés.
POST SALE COMMENT
This seat had it all. We imagine it perfectly in the middle of the living room of Yves Saint-Laurent, a famous person. It may equally be regarded as a work of art or as a piece of furniture.
Christie's has presented it as one of the top lots in the sale, from the first press release last September. The estimate probably took into account the results obtained at Drouot on the armchairs à la Sirène, remembered in my article above. Cautiously, the estimate had been made a little lower (2 M €) in the catalog than in the first releases.
As I have already written, the current crisis of confidence affects the sellers, not the buyers.
The chair of Yves Saint-Laurent by Eileen Gray was sold € 21.9 million including premium.
The low resolution image below is shared by Wikimedia for fair use :
1952 The Primordial Chandelier
2018 SOLD for £ 7.6M including premium
For their friends the Giacometti brothers also remain the pre-war decorators who created models of furnishing for Frank. Diego continues in this specialty and Alberto still accepts some private orders. A plaster chandelier with geometric figures made by Alberto in 1954 for the Tériade apartment was sold for £ 2.05M including premium by Phillips on April 26, 2017.
Louis Broder was a Swiss publisher. For his Paris apartment he commissioned in 1948 to Alberto a chandelier adorned with his new characters. The original plaster, 60 cm high and 136 cm in diameter, was supplied in 1949 or 1950 to Broder and donated in 1983 by Berggruen to the Centre Pompidou.
This private work is an interesting synthesis of Giacometti's metaphysics. The central position is a gloriette in which the Femme debout opens her arms, holding two side columns as if she was ready to go out for discovering the world. She has the main role, superseding the ephemeral Homme au doigt.
The Homme qui marche starts away from the cage in a centrifugal force that ignores the existence of the woman. Smaller than her, he does not have the importance he would like to have. The trinity is completed on the other side by a bird. The four lights are installed in crocus flowers.
In 1952 Alberto made three bronzes of this chandelier, also for Broder. One of them is estimated £ 6M for sale by Sotheby's in London on February 28, lot 4.