The present set of four chairs is among eight known and published chairs of this design. A pair from this set is illustrated by Grace Wu Bruce, On the Kang between the walls: the Ming furniture quietly installed, London and Hong Kong, 1998, pp. 16 - 20. no. 3, and another pair was sold at Sotheby's New York, 18-19 April 1989, lot 508, and is now in a private American collection.
Several important features distinguish the present set of four chairs from other horseshoe-back armchairs: the elegant curve of the crest rail, the exceptionally well-carved sweeping hook handles, the three-part backsplat with finely carved openwork panel, and the beautifully figured wood panel suggestive of a landscape. Compare similarly constructed backsplats from a pair of jichimu ‘Four Corner’s Exposed’ Official’s Hat Armchairs and a single huanghuali southern official’s hat armchair, illustrated in Wang Shixiang and Curtis Evarts, Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, Chicago and San Francisco, 1995, p. 52, no. 24 and p. 69, no. 32. In addition to the superior choice of materials, the chairs were constructed by a master craftsman, as evidenced by the three-section crest rail and the confident carving of the well-molded hook handles. Three-section crest rails are rarer than the more commonly found five-section crestrail and demand larger members to accommodate a wider curve, as seen in the present pair. For a detailed description and explanation of the sophisticated joinery utilized by the Chinese craftsmen to construct the curved rails of the elegant and graceful horseshoe-back armchair, see Curtis Evarts, "Continuous Horseshoe Arms And Half-Lapped Pressure Peg Joins," Journal of The Classical Chinese Furniture Society, Spring, 1991, pp. 14-18.
The Chinese name for this type of chair, quanyi, is literally translated as 'chair with a circular back' or 'circle chair'. During the Song dynasty (960-1279) this form was known as kaolaoyang, which refers to a large round basket made from split bamboo. The English name for this form, however, refers to the overall shape of the back and arm rests, which resembles a horseshoe. Wang Shixiang and Curtis Evarts have suggested that the horseshoe-back armchair emerged simultaneously with other examples of high-back chairs during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. See, Wang Shixiang and Curtis Evarts, op. cit., p. 56, for a further discussion of the form.