A stunning pair of Chinese Ming style side chairs or meiguiyi in finest huanghuali wood, with spindle-backs and solid seats
China, Qing dynasty, circa 1800–1900.
Why we like them
Their smart design, superb quality and richly patinated, original colour make these chairs a rare and desirable find, a versatile and decorative object, suitable for sleek and opulent interiors. This type of chair was popular in the Ming dynasty for its light construction and elegant appearance.
Design and history
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 highbacked 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.
For a brief discussion of the lowback armchair and its Song dynasty predecessors, see Wang Shixiang, ‘Development of Furniture Design and Construction from the Song to the Ming,’ Chinese Furniture: Selected Articles from Orientations, 1984-1999, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 44. Compare the related single chair in the Lan Xanmai Collection, illustrated by C. Evarts et al., Splendour of Style: Classical Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1999, p. 93.