A fine pair of huanghuali yokeback armchairs, shichutouguanmaoyi, Late Ming-Early Qing Dynasty, 17th Century

Lot 350. A fine pair of huanghuali yokeback armchairs, shichutouguanmaoyi, Late Ming-Early Qing Dynasty, 17th Century; each 42 by 22 by 17 1/4 in., 106.7 by 56 by 44 cm. Estimate 180,000 — 220,000 USD. Lot sold 264,000 USD. Photo: Sotheby's.

each composed of thick and generously proportioned members with a shaped headrest set on the curved crestrail, with truncated terminals supported on slightly S-shaped backsplat and backposts continuing through the seatframe to form the straight back legs, the broad armrails also with truncated terminals supported on S-shaped side and front posts, the outer edge of the seat-frame with a deep groove above a recessed square shoulder and the underside of the seat framed on three sides by simple shaped aprons continuing down the circular-section legs through the foot-stretchers set in ascending heights towards the back of the chair, the joints between the post and rails later secured by metal strap-work.

NoteThe yokeback chair is the most vertical of the Chinese chairs.  As it forces the body to sit upright, it readily imparts honor, dignity and power.  Due to its popularity, the chair was adopted not only by the ruling class, but crossed over into the ordinary homes and became one of the most recognizable types of furniture in a Chinese home. Sarah Handler in Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture, Berkeley, 2001, pp. 43- 59, discusses at length the history of the yokeback chair. 

There are two major classifications of Chinese armchairs, those with crestrails which extend over the stiles, called sichutouguanmaoyi, and those which do not extend over the stiles, called nanguanmaoyi.  They are so called because they resemble the wings of the hats worn by Ming officials.  Examples of both types are well-represented in many public and private collections. 

In the late Ming, the apparent plainess of these chairs, and its lack of adornment, were as much an aesthetic statement as fine carving or gold dragons would have been.  Many of the late-Ming elite strove for simplicity.  Apart from the baitong mounts securing the major joints which draw attention to the joinery, the chairs are otherwise very plain.  See a pair of similar proportions sold in these rooms 19th March 1997, lot 401, with baitong mounts as well as interesting protruding tenons. Also compare chairs without the mounts, including an example illustrated by Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture, Vol. 2, Hong Kong, 1990, p. 43, fig. A70; and one of a pair illustrated in Nancy Berliner, Beyond the Screen, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1996, p. 104, no. 8..

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, including Property from the Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, 19-20 march 2007