A pair of huanghuali continuous horseshoe-back armchairs, quanyi, Late Ming dynasty
Lot 107. A pair of huanghuali continuous horseshoe-back armchairs, quanyi, Late Ming dynasty; 105 by 73 by 66 cm, 41 1/4 by 28 3/4 by 26 in. Estimate 1,000,000 — 2,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 6,895,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.
each well proportioned, the arm beginning and ending in returning knobs, the 'S'-curved back splat carved with a ruyi-shaped medallion enclosing a pair of stylised chilong and tongue-and-grooved into the underside of the horseshoe arm and the back member of the seat frame, the stiles and posts tennoned into the horseshoe-shaped arm and passing through the seat frame to become the legs, a pair of small shaped spandrels tongue-and-grooved into the posts and underside of the arm, the seat frame of mitre, mortise and tenon construction, gently curving and ending in a narrow flat band, the shaped beaded-edged front apron decorated with scrollwork and framed by the seat frame, legs and footrest, the side aprons similarly shaped, the back apron similarly cusped but undecorated, the legs joined in front by a shaped footrest and on the sides and back by square stretchers with rounded outer edges, the footrest and side stretchers with plain aprons below.
Provenance: Peter Lai Antiques, Hong Kong, 11th January 1995.
Note: Elegantly constructed with a wide back splat and precisely carved with confronting chilong enclosed in a ruyi-shaped medallion, these chairs owe their aesthetic appeal to the fluid movement created by their continuous crest rail, which provides a sense of containment and ease to their occupants. Comfortable, sturdy and lightweight, horseshoe-back chairs were highly popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and were frequently depicted in contemporary woodblock illustrated books, where they are shown used in both formal and informal occasions and by both male and female family members.
Known as quanyi ('circular chair') or yuanyi ('round chair'), horseshoe-back chairs derive from chairs made of pliable lengths of bamboo, bent into a 'U'-shape and bound together using natural fibres. These chairs display the ingenuity of Ming dynasty cabinet makers, who were able to create a hardwood version by developing complicated joinery techniques. In order to create the continuous back, members were fitted together with a cut-out to accommodate a tapered wood pin that would lock them firmly in place when inserted. The complexity of the design required exacting craftsmanship as a slight error in the tilt of any of the joins would be magnified by the adjoining members. Once the lacquered coat was applied to the surface crest rail, the underlying joinery was not visible and virtually impossible to wrest apart.
Horseshoe-back armchairs carved with this geometric design on the apron are unusual; a pair in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is illustrated in Robert D. Jacobsen, Classical Chinese Furniture, Minneapolis, 1999, pl. 12; another pair was sold in our New York rooms, 22nd March 1995, lot 431; and a single chair from the collection of John and Celeste Fleming, illustrated in Grace Wu, Ming Furniture, Hong Kong 1995, pl. 17, was sold at Bonhams New York, 12th September 2016, lot 6005.