The horseshoe-back armchair is one of four types of Chinese chairs, and is distinguished by its rounded crestrail and out-swept hooks. The form is commonly found; however, it is rare to find a pair of such generous proportions and beautifully selected material. The chairs are robust in their scale, featuring a wide backsplat and broadly curving crestrail. The attractively-grained backsplats were cut from the same section of wood, characterized by the distinctive peak of the grain at the top and the vigorous swirls and striping on the lower half, and suggests that the chairs were commissioned as a pair. The sweep of the crestrail is wide and has an elegance of movement not seen in examples of smaller proportions. Further, the quality of the material is consistent throughout both chairs indicating that the workshop has ample, high quality material to select from. Although the chair is generously proportioned, there is no sense of heaviness. The aprons are high and finely cusped and restrained in design, in perfect harmony with the simple lines of the upper half of the chair. No doubt the wealthy family who commissioned this pair was able to afford the highest quality material and workmanship.
For a discussion of this chair shape, see R.H. Ellsworth, Chinese Furniture: Hardwood Examples of the Ming and Early Ch'ing Dynasty, New York, 1971, pp. 86-87, and Wang Shixiang, Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, Hong Kong, 1990, pp. 43-45. A set of four huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs, of smaller proportions, but also with vigorously grained backsplats and gracefully curved crestrails is published by Grace Wu Bruce, Ming Furniture¸ 30 October-18 November 1995, p. 48, no. 23. See, also, a pair of huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs of similar proportions, carved with a ruyi-medallion on the backsplat, sold at Christie’s New York: The Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection of Asian Art: A Family Legacy, 16 March 2017, lot 607.