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Fine Huanghuali Furniture From an Important Private American Collection

NEW YORK, NY.- On March 21, Christie's will offer 13 pieces of Fine Huanghuali Furniture from an Important Private American Collection. Dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, each is constructed from huanghuali, also known as yellow rosewood, among the most desirable and highly sought-after wood in Chinese furniture construction. Each item is a superb example of its type and carries an impeccable provenance. 

Highlighting the collection is a magnificent and very rare huanghuali square-corner tapered cabinet, fangjiaogui (estimate: $600,000-800,000). Standing nearly six feet tall, the simplicity and elegance of form of this cabinet is in the classical Ming style. The combination of design, strong proportions and superb craftsmanship lend this cabinet a refined elegance and sense of balance and stability. 

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A Magnificent and Very Rare Huanghuali Square Corner Tapered Cabinet, Fangjiaogui, 17th-18th century, 66 ¾ in. (170 cm) high, 32 5/8 in. (82.9 cm) wide, 18 in. (45.7 cm) deep. Estimate: USD600,000-800,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

Beautifully proportioned, with beaded top frame extending beyond the thick, square corner posts, with attractively figured panels on the sides and doors, set within square frames and opening from the removeable center stile to reveal the shelved interior, all above plain aprons and spandrels on the front and sides. 

Provenance: M.D. Flacks, Ltd.

Literature: Marcus Flacks, Classical Chinese Furniture, Autumn, 1997, no. 3.

Notes: Wang Shixiang and Curtis Evarts in Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, Chicago, 1995, p. 130, explain that in general, Chinese "tapered cabinets may be divided into two categories: those made of circular members and those made of square members. Pieces belonging to the first category (circular members) are more common." The form of the current cabinet is of the more rare variety and is a truly exquisite example of its type. The simplicity and elegance of form of this cabinet is in the classical Ming style. The combination of design, perfect proportions and precise craftsmanship lend this cabinet a refined elegance and sense of balance and stability. Marcus Flacks, Classical Chinese Furniture, Autumn, 1997, p. 10, mentions that "the use of flat members (as in the current cabinet) gives the design a sense of austere classical elegance that made it most at home in a gentlemen's quarters or in the scholar's studio."

For a discussion of the development of Chinese cabinet forms see Sarah Handler, "Cabinets and Shelves Containing All Things in China," Journal of Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Winter, 1993, pp. 4-29, where the author traces the development of cabinets and shelves from earlier storage containers such as boxes and chests. Handler makes the very interesting comparison between the elegance and restraint of classical Chinese furniture with Western developments in both Bauhaus and Shaker forms which emphasized serene unadorned beauty. "It is this harmony of proportion that transforms each of these common objects into a work of uncommon grace. In both, the verticality is perfectly balanced and contained by the shape and overhang of the top," 

For a similar, although smaller example (63¼ in. high), of the form see Wang Shixiang,Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture, vol. II, Hong Kong, 1990, no. D33. In vol. I, pp. 87-89, Wang discusses the form and explains the general sizing of the fangjiaogui as being constructed in three approximate sizes: 36 in., 72 in., and 108 in. high. The present cabinet, then, would be classified as of medium size. Compare, also, the somewhat larger (68 in. high) huanghuali square-corner cabinet of 17th/18th century date, sold at Christie's, New York, 22-23 March 2012, lot 1726.

A magnificent and very rare large huanghuali southern official's hat armchair, or nanguanmaoyi, is also of grand proportions and was constructed in the 17th or early 18th century (estimate: $300,000-500,000). The first known depiction of a nanguanmaoyi is from a cave painting dated 538 in Dunhuang, legendary site of Buddhist cave temples in northwestern China. From that early period in Chinese history, this style of chair has developed into one of the most popular and successful forms of furniture. The extraordinary height of the current example, in combination with the thick, sweeping rails and dramatic, strong lines, makes it a truly superb and very rare example of its type. 

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A magnificent and very rare large Huanghuali southern official's hat armchair, Nanguanmaoyi, 17th-early 18th century, 48½ in. (123.2 cm.) high, 24 in. (61 cm.) wide, 18½ in. (47 cm.) deep. Estimate: USD300,000-500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

Of grand proportions, with tall, strongly curved crestrail supported on gracefully curved rear posts and the thick, s-shaped splat, above the soft mat seat set within the wide, rectangular frame with beaded, thumb-grooved edge, the arm rails supported on slender standing stiles and terminating in the front posts, all raised on legs of rounded- square section joined by humpback stretchers with vertical struts on the front and sides, and a plain, shaped apron at the back, with stepped stretchers and the footrest above plain, shaped aprons below. 

Provenance: M.D. Flacks, Ltd., 2001

Literature: Marcus Flacks, Classical Chinese Furniture, Spring 2001, no. 2.
Marcus Flacks, Classical Chinese Furniture: A Very Personal Point of View, London, 2011, pp. 78-9.

Notes: The southern official's hat armchair is one of the most popular forms in Chinese furniture construction. It differs from the official's hat armchair in that its crest rail continues into the back rails as opposed to extending beyond them. The style of the present example is therefore also known as a continuous yokeback armchair. One of the most interesting features of the present armchair is its size, which is several inches taller than the standard, and examples which exceed 47 inches in height are extremely rare and particularly sought after, as explained by Marcus Flacks, Classical Chinese Furniture: A Very Personal Point of View, London, 2011, p. 78. Flacks continues, "some of these tall chairs fail to resolve successfully the issues of proportion and balance that this added height creates. The outcome can often seem awkward, bulky or top-heavy. This chair is so well thought out and executed that it truly highlights the incalculable difference that skilled detail and subtle ingenuity can make." The extraordinary height, in combination with the thick, sweeping rails and dramatic, strong lines, helps make the present armchair a truly superb and very rare example of its type.

For a comprehensive view of the evolution of the yokeback chair, see Sarah Handler, 'A Yokeback Chair for Sitting Tall,' Journal of the Chinese Classical Furniture Society, Spring 1993, pp. 4-23, where the author sheds light on the development of the yokeback chair as one of the earliest chair types in China. The first known depiction of the yokeback chair is from a cave painting in Dunhuang, dated 538. From that early period in Chinese history, the yokeback chair developed into one of the most popular and successful forms of furniture. The author writes, "The yokeback chair is the most vertical of Chinese Chairs. It forces the body to assume a posture of upright rectitude, and hence it is natural and inevitable that it carries with it a significance of honor, dignity, and power. In both the ancient and modern worlds, verticality - in tower, cathedral, and skyscraper - asserts soaring authority. The present continuous yokeback chair, with its extraordinary height and elegance of form, certainly would have lent the seated owner or guest of honor the sense of dignity and power that Handler suggests.

Several similar though smaller examples of southern official's hat armchairs are published. See an example of the same form illustrated by Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, vol. II, 1990, Hong Kong, p. 47, no. A76. The present chair differs, however, in its lack of carving and ornamentation on the back splat and aprons which lends it even greater sense of elegance and strength. A smaller pair of this type (44. 1/2 in. high) with similar back splat, but with carved aprons is illustrated by Robert D. Jacobsen and Nicholas Grindley in Classical Chinese Furniture in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1999, pp. 52-3, no. 9. Compare, also, the pair of armchairs of 17th century date, sold at Christie's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2012, lot 2026. Although also much smaller in height (40 7/8 in.), the chairs are similarly beautifully proportioned with plain back splats and gracefully curved rear posts.

A very rare large huanghuali recessed-leg painting table (estimate: $500,000-700,000) is an example of one of the most well-known and immediately recognizable forms found in classical Chinese furniture construction. Tables of this elegant and restrained form, with the graceful splay of the legs, trace their origins to furniture design of the Song dynasty, and several variations of this type are known. The basic proportions were adapted to make large painting tables, smaller tables, benches and stools. This form of table is also referred to as a Character One Table due to its similarity in profile to the single horizontal stroke of the Chinese character for the number “one.” One of the most impressive features of the present table is the long, single-panel floating top. Tables using large sections of huanghuali, such as seen here, are often considered earlier examples, as the precious material became harder to acquire in subsequent years. 

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A very rare large Huanghuali recessed-leg painting table, Hua'an, 17th century, 48½ in. (123.2 cm.) 31 7/8 in. (81 cm.) high, 77½ in. (197 cm.) wide, 22¼ in. (56.5 cm.) deep. Estimate: USD500,000-700,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

Beautifully proportioned, with attractively figured single-panel top set within the wide, rectangular frame with beaded, thumb-grooved edge, above plain aprons and spandrels, the whole raised on thick legs of rounded section joined by pairs of stretchers

Notes: The recessed-leg table is amongst the most well-known and immediately recognizable forms found in classical Chinese furniture construction. Tables of this elegant and restrained form, with the graceful splay of the legs, trace their origins to furniture design of the Song dynasty, and several variations on this type are known. The basic proportions were adapted to make large painting tables, smaller tables, benches and stools. This form of table is referred to in the Lu Ban Jing as a 'Character One Table' due to its similarity in profile to the single horizontal stroke of the Chinese character for the number one. Tables of the size of the present table are generally referred to as painting tables.

The structure of this table is categorized by Chinese furniture craftsmen as the 'long recessed-leg table', or tiaoan. Those with a flat top, such as the current table, are also occasionally called apingtouan. In his discussion of the form, Wang Shixiang notes in Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, vol. I, 1990, Hong Kong, pp. 62-63, "variations in design occur on the apron, spandrels, legs, flanges, base stretcher, and side-cross stretchers. The variations and combinations are numerous and if properly conceived can be beautiful."

One of the most impressive features of the present table is the long, single-panel floating top. Tables using large sections of huanghuali, such as seen here, are often considered early examples, as the precious material became harder to acquire in subsequent years. The use of single-panel tops adn thick sections for aprons, stretchers, and legs are also testament to the fact that the table would have been quite expensive, even at the time of manufacture, and therefore would have likely been in the household of a wealthy literati family.

The form was created for practical use as can be seen in a wonderful album by the 17th century painter Zhang Hong (1577-after 1660) where the artist depicts a schoolroom filled with teacher and students hard at work with tables and benches of differing size but all of similar construction. (Fig. 1)

For a similar, although larger (89 in. long) huanghuali recessed-leg table, see the 16th/17th century example illustrated by Wang Shixiang and Curtis Evarts, Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, Chicago, 1995, p. 114, no. 54, later sold at Christie's, New York, 19 September 1996, lot 75. Evarts also points out that this basic form of table has been repeatedly depicted in paintings,as well, from as early as the Song dynasty (960 - 1279). See, also, Robert D. Jacobsen and Nicholas Grindley, Classical Chinese Furniture in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1999, pp. 122-23, no. 40, for a similar example of this type dated to the 17th century, although somewhat longer (89 in.), it is of approximately of equal depth (22 in.). For a third example, see Gustav Ecke, Chinese Domestic Furniture, Tokyo, 1962, pl. 46, no. 36.