Lot 287. A pair of 'huanghuali' horseshoe-back armchairs, quanyi, Qing dynasty, 18th century. Height 40 in., 101.6 cm; Width 24 in., 61 cm; Depth 18 3/8 in., 46.7 cm. Estimate 60,000 — 80,000 USD. © Sotheby's.
each with a slender, generously curved five-segment toprail extending beyond the front corner posts and terminating in outscrolled handgrips above shaped spandrels, the sinuous S-form central splat flanked by beaded and shaped flanges, the hard-mat seat supported underneath by two transverse stretchers, set into the rectangular molded edge frame, all above neatly cusped and beaded aprons with long flange brackets on three sides, the back with a plain spandreled apron, the legs of half-round section joined by stepped stretchers above beaded aprons (2).
Provenance: Christie's New York, 28th March 1996, lot 254.
Sotheby's New York, 18th-19th March 2014, lot 421.
Note: Horseshoe-back armchairs are derived from chairs of nearly identical shape made of pliable lengths of bamboo, bent into a U-shape and bound together by natural fibers. These chairs were lightweight, sturdy, and strong. Fast growing and plentiful, bamboo was powerfully evocative to sophisticated urban dwellers of a simpler, rural life.
The bamboo horseshoe-back armchair was an appealing design due to its lightweight, sturdy and practical form. Moreover, bamboo has many positive associations in Chinese culture. Over time, this popular design was interpreted in wood. The cabinet maker had to either bend the wood to make the curved crestrail, which was not possible with dense tropical hardwoods, or construct it of lighter, less durable woods that did bend. Desiring to use beautiful tropical hardwoods, cabinet makers found a solution in an ingenious joinery technique that applied an equal amount of pressure to two sides of two interlocking slightly curved elements. The two pieces fit together with a cut-out to accommodate a tapered wood pin that when inserted put pressure on the two pieces, locking them firmly in place.
A series of these joins connected together, each forming a section of the overall curve of the U-shaped crestrail, created a single, strong unit. When lacquered, the underlying joinery was not visible and virtually impossible to wrest apart. For chairs made of huanghuali, zitan, or other hardwoods, the beauty of the wood grain enhanced the appeal, and the sections were reinforced by hot animal glues.
For similar horseshoe-back chairs with barbed flanged-splats and cusped aprons, compare two pairs sold in these rooms, 19th March 2013, lot 484 and 15th March 2016, lot 27, and third single armchair in our Hong Kong rooms, 5th April 2015, lot 2848.