Provenance: The Collection of Mr. J Ritchie; purchased from Martin Fung Antiques & Furniture Co., Hollywood Road, Hong Kong in 1987, accompanied by the original receipt and certificate of antiquity.
This pair of armchairs is an excellent and rarely found example known as 'Southern official's hat.' Unlike the Northern type, the ends of the Southern official's chairs do not protrude.
The name 'official's hat,' in Chinese guanmaoyi, derived from the chairs' resemblance to the winged hat that was part of the formal attire of Ming officials, used exclusively by members of the elite class. Thus, even today, they are regarded as symbols of status and authority by the Chinese.
These two chairs embody a timelessness in the way they combine linear simplicity with sophistication of detail, loyalty to the traditional canon with a striking sense of modernity. Each is elegantly proportioned, with the narrow top rail supported on gracefully curved rear posts. The S-shaped splat is carved with a delicate ruyi-head medallion. The Huanghuali wood is of an attractive golden yellowish-brown tone with a mesmerizing translucent shimmer. The high-back form of the chairs is typical of the Ming dynasty.
With the excellent material and superb craftsmanship, there is no doubt that they are the work of a highly skilled artist and are of a rare quality.
For similar examples, see Wang Shixiang Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture, p. 46, pl. A76; Wang Shixiang Classic Chinese Furniture, p. 90, pl. 48; Christie's sale in their New York rooms on 22nd-23rd March 2012, lot 1735.
Provenance: Private London Collection; formerly the property of a European private collector resident in China between 1925 and 1931.
Provenance: From an Important North American Collector; formerly of a Private Honolulu Collection.
A period nephrite vase with similar high-relief 'dragon and phoenix' carving can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as part of the Heber R. Bishop Collection (02.18.439)
Provenance: Private English Collection.
Following the passing of the Chinese Emperor Xuande and the empowerment of the Empress Dowager as regent, the interregnum period of blank ceramics commenced. With the implementation of an edict banning the production of blue and white wares, which had flourished in production and use under the emperor Xuande, Empress Dowager promoted a new style in ceramics. Following her passing and the succession of Chenghua we encounter not only a revival in the production of blue and white wares but a period where it can be argued that it reached its zenith, as it is considered the main rival to Xuande wares. The earlier pieces, still with the darker imported cobalt remaining from Xuande, show transition into the lighter blues of locally mined cobalt that the period is more known for. The locally mined cobalt was more malleable to prepare and apply, resulting in the replacement of the 'heaped and piled' effect to a much softer and even toned greyish blue. Comparatively very few pieces of Chenghua wares bear the reign mark of the period. However, examples such as the present dish with the Chenghua reign mark allow us to understand that it was accorded official approval and intended for Imperial use with the dragons all endowed with five claws.
For further reading, see D. Macintosh (1994): Chinese Blue and White Porcelain. For a very similar example see Sotheby's Hong Kong, 24th November 1981, lot 106.
Provenance: Sotheby's New York, 19th September 2015, sale n09437, lot 730.
Provenance: Previously from the collection of Reverend Isaac Taylor Headland and Dr. Miriam Sinclair Headland; Christie's New York, 15th March 2015, Sale 3718, Lot 3741.
Literature: Isaac Taylor Headland, Court Life in China, New York, 1909, unnumbered plate