The form is a variation on the more commonly seen horseshoe-back armchair, but in this example, the arms continue into the seat to form one seamless curving line. The design was inspired by the humble bamboo chair and the construction technique of bending lengths of bamboo using steam and heat. The abundance of bamboo made it popular among the lower classes, as a cost-effective and more easily portable alternative to the more luxurious huanghuali. This rare pair would have been commissioned by a wealthy family, attracted to the humble origins of bamboo furniture, but seeking the luxury and status associated with precious huanghuali.
Only a handful of examples dating to the seventeenth century are known, but there are no examples with these haunting Dali marble panels on the back splats. Chosen for their natural markings and carefully polished to reveal evocative and poetic scenes, the panels instantly transport the viewer to that contemplative place in nature that only the best panels can convey. The panel on the left is a tranquil landscape scene – a foggy morning punctuated by a lone tree – and the panel on the right is wild and untamed, recalling a turbulent sea or a powerful storm. Together, these panels add an elegance and power to these already commanding pair of chairs.
A pair, originally from a set of four, of huanghuali continuous horseshoe-back armchairs with serpentine aprons, formerly in the Robert H. Ellsworth Collection, was sold at Christie’s New York: The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Part I: Masterworks: Including Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art, Chinese and Japanese Works of Art, 17 March 2015, lot 47. A single chair of this form, with straight aprons and curved corner spandrels, formerly in the Flacks Family collection, was sold at Christie’s New York: The Flacks Family Collection: A Very Personal Selection, 16 September 2016, lot 1105. A pair of this form is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, accession number: 1971-12-1 and illustrated by J. G. Lee, "Chinese Furniture Collection," The Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. LVIII:276 (Winter 1963), p. 63, fig. 7.