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A MAGNIFICENT AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE HUANGHUALI FOLDING HORSESHOE-BACK ARMCHAIR, JIAOYI
A MAGNIFICENT AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE HUANGHUALI FOLDING HORSESHOE-BACK ARMCHAIR, JIAOYI
A MAGNIFICENT AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE HUANGHUALI FOLDING HORSESHOE-BACK ARMCHAIR, JIAOYI
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A MAGNIFICENT AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE HUANGHUALI FOLDING HORSESHOE-BACK ARMCHAIR, JIAOYI
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Prospective purchasers are advised that several co… Read more
A MAGNIFICENT AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE HUANGHUALI FOLDING HORSESHOE-BACK ARMCHAIR, JIAOYI

LATE MING-EARLY QING DYNASTY, 17TH CENTURY

Details
A MAGNIFICENT AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE HUANGHUALI FOLDING HORSESHOE-BACK ARMCHAIR, JIAOYI
LATE MING-EARLY QING DYNASTY, 17TH CENTURY
The curved crestrail terminates in out-swept hooks and is supported on a C-shaped single-panel back splat carved in relief forming three registers. The centre is carved with a lively qilin poised on rockwork looking over its shoulder at a flaming pearl, with a ruyi-form openwork cartouche carved with a coiled chi-dragon above and carved foliage below, and flanked by narrow shaped flanges fitted with brass mounts. The arms are supported by elegant curved supports reinforced with metal hardware that continue on to form the front leg. The woven seat is joined by beaded horizontal members carved with scrollwork and confronted chi-dragons above the round-section legs. The whole is supported on legs joined at the mid-point with round pins and shaped brass hardware above the long, horizontal feet. The legs are further joined by a foot rest with brass hardware and triple-lozenge pattern at the center.
42 in. (106.6 cm.) high; 29 in. (73.7 cm.) wide; 24 ½ in. (62.2 cm.) deep
Provenance
Scandinavian collection, circa 1910
Christie's New York, 21 March 2002, lot 24
The Heveningham Hall Collection
Special Notice

Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory, tortoiseshell and crocodile. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.

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Marco Almeida (安偉達)
Marco Almeida (安偉達) Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art

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Lot Essay

With its majestic proportions and deceptively complex design, this important folding chair embodies the subtle grace and technical genius of 17th century furniture. As seen in the graceful movement of the arms, the beautifully figured grain of the back splat, and the robust construction of the crossed legs, this folding chair suggests the power and importance of its original owner. Though folding horseshoe-back armchairs are seen in Ming-dynasty woodblock prints and in Song-dynasty paintings, there are only a limited number of surviving examples dating to 17th century. Of what furniture remains from the Ming period, the folding horseshoe-back armchair is the rarest.

The design is an elite variation of the older and humbler folding stool, such as lot 2820. Recorded to have been in use since the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), the folding stool was called huchang, or ‘barbarian bed,’ a reference to its foreign origin. Of the four types of armchairs, the horseshoe-back design, with its sweeping U-shaped crestrail and outswept hooks, is the most easily adapted to collapsing. When folded, the front seat rail fits snugly within the curved supporting arms. Metal bracing, as seen on the backward curves of the legs, the tops of the footrests, and the joins, was introduced to further strengthen these chairs. Metal pins, inserted where the legs cross, allow the legs to fold upwards.

The present lot is notable for its exceptionally handsome qilin motif carved in relief to imitate three sections on a single-panel splat. The qilin is an imperial symbol for prosperity and good fortune, corresponding to rank badges (fig. 1) of the Ming and Qing dynasties. As decreed in 1391, badges featuring the qilin were worn by dukes, marquises, earls, and sons-in-law of the emperor. The folding horseshoe-back armchair was used by the Imperial family and wealthy and powerful individuals as a symbol of status and rank. The “first folding chair” (di yi ba jiaoyi) is a well-known Chinese saying and conveys the importance of this type of chair, as the most honoured seat in a public room.

Folding horseshoe-back armchairs also appear as quotidian furniture, used on verandas or outdoors. Collapsible for ease of transport and compact storage, their complex construction and fragile design made these chairs subject to greater wear and more susceptible to damage. In this context, the chair loses its symbol as a mark of status and instead is associated with leisure, the natural world, and comfortable, relaxed living.

Of the surviving examples dating to the Ming dynasty, the majority are found in prominent museum collections, while a few remain in private hands. The present folding chair, with its elaborately decorated splat exquisitely carved with qilin imitating three registers, is most similar in proportion and design to one formerly in the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, with also three carved registers on the splat but with stylized chi-dragon and shou character motif (fig. 1), illustrated by Wang, et al., Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, San Francisco and Chicago, 1995, p. 74, no. 35 and sold in Christie’s New York, 19 September 1996, lot 50. The chair in the collection of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City with also fully ornate back splat is carved with intricate floral scrolls, illustrated by S. Handler, ‘The Elegant Vagabond: The Chinese Folding Chair’, Chinese Furniture: Selected Articles from Orientations, pp. 146-147, fig. 2.

Two other known brass-mounted folding armchairs with qilin motif. One example formerly belonging to Wang Shixiang and now at the Shanghai Museum, is illustrated on the cover of Chinese Furniture: Selected Articles from Orientations 1984-1999, Hong Kong, 1999. The other armchair with a carved pierced central splat depicting a qilin amidst scrolling clouds (fig. 2), was formerly in the collection of John W. Gruber was sold at Christie’s New York, From Elegant Mansions: Fine Classical Chinese Furniture and Works of Art, 16 September 1998, lot 32, and subsequently sold at Poly Auction, Beijing, 8 December 2018, lot 5405 and achieved RMB 27,370,000.

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