An exceptional and rare huanghuali yokeback armchair with 'fu' character and burl splat

Lot 305. An exceptional and rare huanghuali yokeback armchair with 'fu' character and burl splat, Late Ming dynasty, 16th-17th Century; 46 by 25 3/4 by 19 in., 116.8 by 65.4 by 48.2 cm. Estimate 100,000 — 150,000 USD. Lot sold 120,000 USD. Photo: Sotheby's.

constructed of very thick members and of majestic proportions, the generous crestrail with flattened headrest and bulging rounded terminals set on rounded backposts curving sharply back, the wide backsplat in tripartite form flanked by thick barbed, lobed and cusped trimming strips running the entire length of the splat accented with beading and pierced at the top with C-scrolls, the splat itself with an upper squared panel pierced with a stylized fu character in grooved fretwork within a barbed panel, and a central rectangular panel of finely figured nanmu burlwood, above a lobed apron with beading, the armrails terminating in rounded hand-grips set on sharply 'goose-neck' front posts and supporting struts of mock-bamboo lengths issuing from baluster vases, with soft matting seat within a seat frame with ridged edges and rounded outer sides, the legs also accented with squared ridges to the inner edges secured by lobed and cusped aprons with beaded trim rising to a central peak to match the backsplat, with foot stretchers of uneven heights and faceted outer sides supported by lobed aprons on the three main sides, ample traces of original lacquer behind the splat and beneath the seat.

Note: The present armchair belongs to an important group of yokeback chairs that originated in Suzhou during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whose rich decorative features hark back to the ornately carved softwood and lacquer furniture of the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties.  The upper register of the tripartite curving backsplat is pierced with an openwork panel enclosing a stylized fu character, symbolizing happiness, good fortune, or prosperity.  A closely related huanghuali armchair in the Mimi and Raymond Hung Collection, with a similar pierced fu-character above a burlwood rectangular panel on the backsplat and ‘goose-neck’ posts beneath the armrails, probably represents the mate to the present armchair and is illustrated in R.H. Ellsworth, Chinese Furniture: One Hundred Examples from the Mimi and Raymond Hung Collection, New York, 1996, no. 10. 

Similar armchairs can also be found in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, illustrated in Robert D. Jacobsen, Classical Chinese Furniture in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999, cat.no. 6; and in the collections of Cheney Cowles and Reverend Richard Fabian.

Compare also a pair of armchairs sold in these rooms, 25th April 1987, lot 575; and another from the Estate of John Alex McCone, sold on 3rd June 1992, lot 348.  For a further discussion of the important group of yokeback chairs to which the present chair belongs, see Curtis Evarts, ‘From Ornate to Unadorned: A Study of a Group of Yokeback Chairs’, Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring 1993, pp. 24-33.

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