A Pair of Huanghuali Horseshoe-Back Armchairs, Quanyi, Late Ming-Early Qing Dynasty

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Lot 1. A Pair of Huanghuali Horseshoe-Back Armchairs, Quanyi, Late Ming-Early Qing Dynasty; 101 by 73 by 56cm., 39 3/4 by 28 3/4 by 22in. Estimate 30,000 — 50,000 GBP. Lot sold 161,000 GBP. © Sotheby's 2015

each with curving toprail sloping down to the arms supported on serpentine side posts and terminating in a curved hook beyond the corner posts set with shaped spandrels, the backsplat carved with a ruyi-shaped panel enclosing a stylised altar emblem, the back corner posts continuing below the rectangular frame, with mat seat, to the back legs joined by stepped stretchers and a footrest, the front legs with a cusped arching apron carved with foliate scrolls extending from the beaded edge.

Provenance: Purchased from Hei Hung-Lu, Hong Kong, late 1980s/early 1990s.

Note: Known as quanyi or ‘horseshoe-back chairs’, armchairs such as this pair are particularly attractive for the fluidity of their form achieved through the continuous curved crest rail that also functions as an armrest. Frequently depicted in Ming and Qing dynasty woodblock illustrations, chairs of this elegant design were commonly produced in sets of two or four and used while dining, painting or receiving guests. With the addition of two carrying poles, these chairs were also converted into sedan chairs reserved for officials of high rank, and Craig Clunas in Chinese Furniture, London, 1988, notes that ‘they were markers of high status, seats of honour’ (see p. 24.

The construction of quanyi derive from chairs made of pliable lengths of bamboo bent to form a ‘U’-shape and bound together by natural fibres. This classic bamboo design was quickly adopted by hardwood carpenters, who ingeniously developed a sophisticated joinery technique that allowed the reproduction of the continuous curved crest rail.

Examples of armchairs similarly carved on the splat with a lobed cartouche include one illustrated in Sarah Handler, Ming Furniture in the Light of Chinese Architecture, Berkeley, 2005, p. 113; one from the collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, published in Chinese Furniture. Hardwood Examples of the Ming and Early Ch’ing Dynasties, New York, 1971, pl. 18, and sold at Christie’s New York, 18th March 2015, lot 139; two pairs sold in our New York rooms, the first, 9th/10th October 1987, lot 440, and the second 3rd June 1992, lot 355; and a further pair sold at Christie’s New York, 24th March 2011, lot 1386.

Sotheby's. Classical Chinese Furniture from a European Private Collection, London, 11 november 2015