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07 Sep 2016 - 20 Nov 2016

The University Museum and Art Gallery at The University of Hong Kong is honoured to present Classical Chinese Huanghuali Furniture from the Haven Collection from 7 September through 20 November 2016, and to publish this informative publication on this special occasion. Chinese huanghuali furniture is world-famous and, for the longest time, has been collected in both East and West. The fine selection displayed here shows both domestic furniture and scholars’ items, such as brush pots and chests.

In Ming dynasty China, traditional wood architecture and Buddhist thrones inspired Chinese furniture makers and, as trade expanded, so did the amount of hardwood furniture in the form of sophisticated movable pieces and built-in interiors. Ming furniture is known for its elegant lines and carved details. During the reign of Emperor Longqing (1567–1572) China opened its borders, previously implemented import bans were lifted and a greater variety of building materials became available. Consequently, during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911) the most celebrated types of domestic furniture were made from huanghuali and zitan woods. The elegant dark hardwood with natural shine is remarkable for the fact that Chinese furniture is typically made from solid timber, not an invisible sub-construction covered by a decorative veneer, as is so often the case in the West. The strength of each individual element of a piece of furniture and the consistent colour matters, as every detail is exposed and the precision of the joints, the size and position of the dowels, are all visual elements of an often very simple and graceful design. In some pieces the joints are detectible and accessible, sometimes demountable, or else expertly hidden in the more sophisticated pieces. Applied surface finishes were generally only a layer of wax; no stains or clear lacquer seals were added to the dense and inherently decorative woods.

It is our good fortune to be able to teach, in twenty-first-century Hong Kong, domestic living and furniture making with objects from the Haven Collection. We thank Dr Lau Chu-Pak for his generosity and the array of furniture types and forms that we are able to show to the public for the first time.


Six-post Canopy Bed【Liuzhu Jiazichuang】

Late 16th–Early 18th Century

209cm (w) 155cm (d) 190cm (h) 49cm (sh)

This particular six-post canopy bed is made of huanghuali and, unlike most published examples, includes solid rather than pierced panels fitted into its canopy. The panels are carved with chi dragons that can be seen from the front of the outside, and on all four sides when viewed from inside the bed. Corner aprons are used to further strengthen the canopy, which is raised by a set of six posts.

Pair of Armchairs with Curved Rest 【Quanyi or Yuanyi】

Late 16th–Early 18th Century

 59cm (w) 45cm (d) 100cm (h) 52.5cm (sh)

When viewed from the top, the horseshoe-shaped crest rail appears to be supported from the square seat frame by a set of curved wooden pillars. Cusp-shaped aprons provide additional support beneath. Floor stretchers are arranged with the lowest one in front (also serving as a footrest), slightly higher on the sides, and highest at the back. This stepped arrangement is common in Chinese furniture, as it symbolises ascension to a higher official ranking. This also has a structural purpose, as the tenons of the stretchers do not overlap at the same level, which would weaken the legs.

Square Table with Removable Legs 【Zhantui Fangzhuo】

Late 16th–Early 18th Century

98cm (l) 98cm (d) 88cm (h)

This square table is made of huanghuali, the edge of the tabletop is moulded and the waist and apron are made from one piece of wood. A chi dragon is carved on both sides of the cusp apron with scrolling leaves in the center. A giant’s arm brace supports the legs instead of the conventional straight stretchers, thus allowing more legroom during sitting. A rare construction method found in this table is that the legs are removable. Once removed, the table becomes a square kang table with cabriole legs. A giant bracelet is attached to the removable leg.

Related articles:

Knothe 2014: Florian Knothe, 'Chinese Huanghuali and Zitan Furniture and its influeence over European Designs', in A.M .Post:, 109, 10-11.

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