Early Minimalism: Classical Chinese Furniture

The golden age of Chinese furniture spanned the Ming (1368-1644) to middle Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, when furniture suddenly leaped away from previous lacquered softwoods towards austere and refined pieces crafted from Southeast Asian hardwoods. The emphasis was on simplicity, often with little or no decoration, wonderful timber selection and complex mortise and tenon joinery. No nails were used, so pieces could be broken down and flat-packed for storage and travel.

Zitan wood was favoured by the Imperial Palace, and lent itself to exceptionally fine carving.  But honey-coloured and richly figured huanghuali was the favourite of the scholar officials who governed China. Those who could afford to, decorated their studios sparsely with just a few select and useful pieces of huanghuali furniture: a painting table, a pairs of open book cabinets, a high-backed armchair and a pair of side chairs, maybe an incense stand, a strange rock evoking a distant mountain, and a painting. In design and interior spacing they were the first true minimalists.

This pair of low-backed huanghuali ‘meigui yi’ armchairs epitomise the characteristics mentioned above. They are of gently tapered spindle back design, the square-sectioned legs joined with an elegantly beaded apron. They date approximately to the 17th or 18th Century, and were purchased by the vendor in Hong Kong in the 1990s. We are pleased to be offering them in our upcoming auction on 20 October 2020.

CARL WANTRUP, Asian Art Consultant

MING (1368-1644) OR QING DYNASTY (1644-1912), CIRCA 17TH/18TH CENTURY

October 2020