Lot 31
  • 31

A RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL PAIR OF HUANGHUALI AND HUAMU ‘FU’ CHARACTER YOKEBACK ARMCHAIRS (SICHUTOUGUANMAOYI) MING DYNASTY, 16TH / 17TH CENTURY

Estimate
500,000 - 700,000 USD
Sold
bidding is closed

Description

  • Wood
  • Height 46 7/8 in; Width 27 in; Depth 20 in
each with a gently curving crestrail slightly flattened and widened towards the center and ending in rounded swept back ends, the bowed rear posts tenoned to the underside of the 'yoke', extending through the seat rail forming the back legs, the C-form splat divided into three floating-panel sections, an openwork stylized fu character at the top, a long rectangular attractively-figured nanmu burlwood central panel over a shaped and beaded apron, the splat set to either side with scrolling and beaded flange brackets, the sinuous arms supported on recessed S-shaped braces and delicate bamboo-style baluster-form center stiles, the molded rectangular seat frame of standard miter, mortise and tenon construction ending in a molded, inward tapering beaded edge, enclosing a soft mat seat retaining its original pair of bowed transverse stretchers underneath, the front and side aprons strongly cusped and barbed with beaded edge, the slightly splayed legs joined by square section stretchers with the two side rails set higher than those at the front and back, the side and front rails with shaped aprons (2)

Provenance

Sotheby’s New York, April 25 1987, lot 575.

Exhibited

Classical Chinese Wood Furniture, San Francisco Craft and Folk Museum, San Francisco, 1992, cat. no. 9.

Literature

Curtis Evarts, 'From Ornate to Unadorned: A Study of Yokeback Chairs', The Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring 1993, pp. 24-33, fig. 4.

Catalogue Note

AN AUSPICIOUS GATHERING

The present two pairs of armchairs (lots 31 and 32) exemplify the very best of a particularly distinguished and distinctive type. The chairs of this much-studied and admired group are renowned for their generous proportions, varied textures, ingenious juxtaposition of positive and negative space, and the crisp undulating lines of the strongly shaped aprons and supports. The successful production of this ambitious combination of disparate decorative techniques and media required the highest skill level. Among the few known published examples that remain of this early group, there are some slight variations in size and decoration but all are united in the relatively flat outline of the ‘yoke’ toprail, the flanged splat enclosing an openwork fu-character silhouette, the burlwood central panel, the turned vase-and-bamboo arm support and the scrolling aprons with an accentuated barb projecting out towards the base.

To date, there are eleven armchairs of this form known. Four, from the collection of the Reverend Richard Fabian, comprised of two pairs, are included in this sale, lots 31 and 32. There is only other known pair; formerly from the collection of John Alex McCone, and sold in these rooms 3rd June 1992, lot 348. This pair, now in an American private collection, has huanghuali panels in the center of the splat replacing the burlwood originals. A single armchair from the Hung collection is illustrated in Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, Nicholas Grindley and Anita Christy, Chinese Furniture, One Hundred Examples from the Mimi and Raymond Hung Collection, New York, 1996, pl. 10. Another armchair from this group, slightly reduced in height, is in the collection of Peter Fung in Hong Kong and illustrated in Curtis Evarts, A Leisurely Pursuit, Splendid Hardwood Antiquities from the Liang Yi Collection, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 10. Another single armchair was sold in these rooms, 19th March 2007, lot 305 and, now in a private collection. An armchair, from the Cheney Cowles collection in Seattle, Washington is illustrated in Curtis Evarts, ‘From Ornate to Unadorned: A Study of Yokeback Chairs’, The Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring 1993, pp. 24-33, fig. 3.  Another armchair of this group, in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, has variation in the fu character. Initially from a Los Angeles collection, the splat had a white marble replacement panel which has now been correctly restored with a burlwood panel. The armchair is illustrated in Robert D. Jacobsen and Nicholas Grindley, Classical Chinese Furniture in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, 1999, pl. 9. The authors state that the armchair reputedly was found in the Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Finally, a pair of side chairs from this group from the Robert H. Ellsworth collection is illustrated in Robert H. Ellsworth, Chinese Furniture, Hardwood Examples of the Ming and Early Ch’ing Dynasties, New York, 1970, pl. 22. The pair is lacking the openwork fu characters but the outline of their presence is visible when examining the chairs.

Curtis Evarts delves into this group in depth in ‘From Ornate to Unadorned: A Study of Yokeback Chairs’, The Journal of the Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring, 1993, pp. 24-33. He cites nineteen examples but his criteria are broader including chairs with plain splats and others that appear to be possibly of a later date. If the definition is limited to the precise features so beautifully exemplified in the present pairs, it is clear that the chairs emerged from the same workshop and were done within a relatively short period of time. The author also discusses the felicitous symbolic meaning of the chairs. The prominent fu character conveys a wish for happiness but there is a more subtle rebus contained within the bamboo-vase support zhubao pingan (virtue brings peace). The combined wish for enduring happiness and peace would have made the gift of a pair of these particular chairs ideal for a newly married couple. The archaism of the design serves to deepen the auspicious symbolism by referencing previous generations and the traditional value of looking back to the past in order to successfully navigate the future.
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