Just arrived with us and perfect as a special Christmas gift are a series of beautiful Tassar Patta paintings based on the tree of life design. Tassar Patta is an ancient style of painting from the Orissa region in eastern India. Originally painted on palm leaves using natural pigments, they depict a variety of themes, usually mythical or with religious significance. They were often used to decorate the walls of temples and the palaces of the Maharajas of Orissa, or shown at religious festivals, and they are highly revered as one of the oldest styles of painting in India.
Today the paintings are produced on silk, still a natural material but longer lasting. The highly skilled techniques used to create them are the same as in ancient times, passed down through generations. We now offer eight different paintings, each created by hand and beautifully framed.
The paintings are the result of dedicated research by a family of master craftsmen in Orissa, who have a passion for the technique and have been trained in this wonderful, highly detailed style of painting. The family now employs unmarried, often otherwise destitute women in the city of Puri to pass on their skills and craft and to create these exquisite artworks. This provides an income to the women that they would otherwise struggle to achieve.
Each piece can take the artist weeks to produce or, for larger paintings, even months. The work is painstaking and highly detailed, with just a small lack of attention or carelessness likely to spoil a whole painting.
The designs we offer are based on decorative artwork in the Jagannath Temple in Puri. They have become well known in India and beyond and have received several awards from the Indian government.
We are delighted to now be able to offer these unique paintings to our customers and we hope you will appreciate them as much as we do. You can see the full current range under the wall art section of our website or visit our West Yorkshire showroom to see them in person.
I’m heading home from Beijing now so it’s a good time to reflect on another very useful few days. I’ve caught up with the main suppliers that we buy our Chinese antiques from and lined up more gorgeous pieces to ship in the new year. We already have one container due to leave Beijing at the end of the month so we are getting ahead of ourselves and making sure we have a nice selection of antiques for the spring. Whilst we are in a position where we can, and often do, select antiques from a couple of restorers from photos alone, I always prefer to choose them in person if I can. It is the only way to really appreciate the finish and beauty of the furniture even if, having worked with these workshops for several years, I know that the quality will be second to none.
It also means that I often get to learn more about the history of a particular item of furniture and any interesting quirks or features that it displays. I’ve been dealing with Chinese antiques now for about 12 years but every time I come out here there is always something new to learn.
I wrote in a recent post about some of the lovely detail that is often seen in the antiques that we have available, perhaps in the paintings that decorate the front of a cabinet or in the joinery that can indicate when a piece was produced. There is plenty more of this interesting detail in many of the furniture I selected on this visit. For example, the beautiful paintings of peony flowers on an old grain cabinet from Gansu province that would have symbolised the owner’s important status. Unusually these are sent against a pale blue lacquered background, now aged and crackled to give a wonderful soft, pastel finish.
Another cabinet from Gansu is decorated with scenes of figures that include two children and their parents, one child embracing his father. The paintings are worn but still clear against a pale background and it is fascinating to study the characters’ dress and facial expressions and to wonder what story is being played out.
Other features are more practical. For example, a simple elm table I chose from Henan province is in a plain finish but the upper part of each leg shows a short inscription in old Chinese characters. Unusually for Chinese antique furniture, which can be difficult to date accurately, these give the date of when the table was made on one leg, whilst on the other is shown the name of the shop or carpenter who produced it.
Lastly, even a modification or repair can tell a story. A little kang opium table shows signs of repaired scorch marks, perhaps caused by a lack of attention by the user when under the influence of the drug. Another table has a filled in section that is an old repair. This is not particularly unusual or well carried out but on closer inspection you can see that it is in the shape of a peach– a sign for longevity. Typical of Chinese carpenters, it seems who ever carried out the work took the opportunity to include an auspicious symbol even in a basic repair to the table top.
All of these little quirks and details in my view only add to the character of each piece of furniture. It makes you realise that each item really does have its own history and backstory and I can’t help wonder about what sort of events and turbulent times some of these beautiful cabinets, tables and trunks must have ‘lived’ through.
We’ll be working on adding my selection onto the website over the coming weeks, so look out for more details of these soon, along with some other projects that we are working on – more to follow in the New Year.
A fairly whirlwind few days in Shanghai saw me head out to the factory around 20 miles outside the centre of the city on day one to check on progress for our next container of Classical Chinese furniture. This will be our last shipment leaving here before Christmas and I had timed my visit to allow me to see most of the furniture nearing completion.
I was pleased to see that nearly everything was already finished, if only to the ‘woodwork’ stage, which actually provides a good opportunity to check on the quality of the joinery and construction of each piece as the craftsmanship is more evident before a final finish is applied – particularly on solid lacquer pieces.
As always, we also have several bespoke items of furniture due to ship this time, made to order for customers with specific requirements in terms of size, style or finish. I was able to discuss final details on one or two of these pieces and I look forward to seeing photos of the finished results in a week or so before we finalise everything for shipping later this month.
Saturday was a beautiful day in Shanghai and I had time to head out for a stroll along the waterfront at the Bund and down Nanjing Road to People’s Square – something I’ve not done for a few years. The Bund provides the classic backdrop of colonial era Shanghai, with its imposing deco buildings that were built to house the banking and trading organisations of the western settlements.
Looking across the Huangpu River to the newly developed area of Pudong, including the iconic Pearl Oriental Tower, the contrast between old and new is striking. Once an emblem of western power and influence, the old colonial buildings are now dwarfed by the gleaming steel and glass skyscrapers across the water, most of which have been built only over the last twenty years or so as the Pudong area has been opened up for development.
Among the huge throng of tourists enjoying the view were many brides to be, dressed up in their finery for wedding photos against the stunning background of the Shanghai skyline. This is something I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post on an earlier trip and a concept that is quite strange us in the west. Photos here are taken weeks in advance of the big day, with the bride, groom and bridesmaids all turning up in full paraphernalia. I guess it is one less thing to think about on a bride’s wedding day but it always seems somehow fake to my mind as the photos don’t have any real connection to the actual wedding other than the outfits, which are usually hired solely for the photos!
I also paid a visit to the Jing’an Temple, the large Buddhist temple on Nanjing Road. Originally built in the thirteenth century, it has been rebuilt and renovated many times and even served as a plastics factory during the Cultural Revolution. Made up of four halls, each one includes a wonderful statue of the Buddha in either stone, jade or camphor wood which date from as long ago as the 5th century. Built in a courtyard style, the architecture is wonderful, with carved lattice door and window panels all around and pagoda roofs.
Set in the noisy, bustling centre of Shanghai and so close to the hugely commercialised, crowded main drag of Nanjing road, the temple felt like a tranquil oasis – a great place to reflect and gather your thoughts before heading back into the throngs of people outside and the stresses of modern life.
On Saturday evening I went over to Xintiandi, an area not far from People’s Square that has been developed recently to house a myriad of bars, restaurants and shops. One of the most expensive places to live in the city, the area has become one of the main social centres and is a gathering place for ex pats and wealthy Chinese alike. It’s a great place to wander around and, along with the little shops selling mostly overpriced clothing and homewares, there are a couple of interesting little museums.
The whole area has been redeveloped based on the original old ‘shikumen’ (stone gate) courtyard houses and one of these (the Shikumen Open House Museum) essentially resconstructs what life would have been like in one of the houses at the beginning of the 20th century. The house is furnished as it would have been, with antiques and artefacts from the time. It is beautifully done and well worth a look.
There are other hidden gems in the area. I took a detour into an entranceway and up some stairs to find myself in the elegantly presented showroom of a company specialising in nanmu furniture. Nanmu is a beautiful wood used over centuries in China for some of the more refined pieces of furniture – ones that only the most wealthy could afford. We have had a few antiques in the wood ourselves over the years, always beautifully made and, whilst not on the level of the huang huali or zitan pieces that go for tens of thousands of dollars at auction, they are always something quite special. The wood is quite dense, with a tight grain compared to elm, and is very stable in changes of climate.
This Shanghai company is producing new furniture in the wood based on ancient designs and targeted firmly at the Chinese elite, who are starting to appreciate the classical styles and beautiful materials of their past. Most of us would have to remortgage the house to be able to afford much of the furniture displayed, but the quality and craftsmanship were remarkable. The designs shown included tables, chairs and cabinets that were reproductions of Ming dynasty furniture, with clean lines and simple style. Others were copies of the later Qing dynasty, with very elaborate, heavy carvings. The latter included a pair of huge cabinets, wonderfully decorated with highly detailed carvings of dragons.
I flew to Beijing last night so over the next few days will be catching up with one or two old contacts and visiting warehouses, selecting more Chinese antiques for shipping over to the UK in the New Year. I’ll let you know of any interesting finds soon.
Visitors don’t expect hotel-like facilities, but a few thoughtful touches can go a long way to making guests feel welcome.
Creating a cosy and comfortable space shows your guests that you care. Here are our top tips for a spare room that’s sure to give your visitors a relaxing stay.
1. Never underestimate the impact of real flowers. Not only do they add scent and colour, they demonstrate your visitors that you cared enough to make the effort. Just a small bunch is fine – no need for overpowering blooms – as some guests may have allergies.
2. No need to go the whole hog with tea and coffee in a basket, but why not leave some fruit in a bowl and maybe a kit kat in case the late night munchies strike?
3. A late-night read is how many people wind down, so why not leave an alluring pile of books on the bedside table? Whether The Girl on the Train, Fifty Shades of Gray, or the latest Booker prize winner, a guest room is a great place to store books you’ve read recently.
4. Think about lighting on a bedside table so your guests don’t have to stumble into bed in the dark. Small details like this can often be overlooked in a room you don’t regularly sleep in. This Chinese lamp from Shimu is decorated with the double happiness symbol so sweet dreams are guaranteed!
The couple moved into this beautiful house just a few years ago and have spent two years largely gutting the interior, refurbishing and redecorating. They consider the revamp of the house to now be just about complete.
Mike runs a company which supplies fabric to most of the UK’s major sofa manufacturers. He started the business many years ago from a small workshop, importing textiles from China. As a result, he has spent many years in the country, making regular visits to suppliers and factories.
Mike and Sarah had thought carefully about furniture for their revamped home. They both knew the impact a carefully chosen original piece can have on a room, but didn’t want run-of the mill antiques. Whilst they wanted pieces with history, they sought ones with a more eclectic feel, different from the mainstream.
Mike had seen some interesting antiques on his visits to China, and looked into the possibility of having some of them shipped over. Before getting to grips with the red tape, bureaucracy and expense involved in shipping antiques from China, Mike thought he’d have a look at what was available in the UK. A simple web search found Shimu, and Mike was surprised and pleased to find the showroom so close to his own home.
Mike and Sarah have skilfully furnished the house with a mix of antiques and reproduction pieces. The gorgeous black lacquer tapered cabinet pictured above is a copy of a traditional style which was common throughout China. Its tapered shape is wonderfully fluid and its doors are set into the frames on wooden dowels, meaning metal hinges are not necessary and adding to its clean and stylish appearance.
The antique sideboard pictured above (see similar) is both beautiful and practical, acting as useful storage in the dining room. Mike and Sarah also have this reproduction Ming sideboard in black lacquer in their living room, below a flat screen TV, which houses CDs, DVDs and books.
As you know, we specialise in Chinese and Oriental antiques, and in this post, we’ll focus on some of the wonderful detail which makes these pieces so unique.
Intricate carving features on much of the furniture we source from China. The stunning chest of drawers on the left features a beautiful floral decoration in carved relief on the upper drawers. The spandrels at each side of the coffer are also beautifully carved, as is the bottom apron. The coffer retains its old dark colour, now worn to leave a wonderful patina. The top surface in particular is full of character, showing signs of use of the decades. Scorch marks towards the front suggest that the coffer perhaps doubled as an altar table for offerings to ancestors.
This heavily carved low sideboard (right) is typical of the furniture of Xinjiang province. This piece was once a large daybed, and would have been brightly coloured in pinks, greens and blues. The colours are now beautifully faded. but show a hint of the old finish within the relief carvings.
Many of our antiques feature wonderfully detailed paintings, offering a unique glimpse into history and showing how life must have been in China hundreds of years ago.
The wonderful sideboard below was originally from the city of Lanzhou in western China, and would have been used for grain storage. Charmingly, it shows figures participating in the ancient art of tai chi, with an inscription at either side in old characters. The two lower panels are decorated with paintings of flowers.
Another interesting piece is this one, from Gansu, which again would have originally have been used for storing grain and other foods. Here, the detailed paintings depict mountain landscapes, with the central door showing a vase of flowers and the three shallow drawers above with floral designs.
Take a look at our website for lots more amazing Oriental antiques, all with their own history. If you want to know more about the story behind any of our antiques, please call us or visit our West Yorkshire showroom, where we’d be delighted to chat to you about the provenance of any piece.
As you know, we love to dip into Chinese culture and share what we know with you. You’ll already be aware of the importance of festivals to the Chinese, and one of the most significant of all is celebrated over the next couple of days- the Mid-Autumn Festival. So what do we know about its history and origins?
The term ‘Mid-Autumn’ first appeared in the book ‘Rites of Zhou’, written in the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). But it wasn’t until during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD) that the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’. From then on, worshipping the moon was established as a traditional custom. Ancient Chinese emperors worshipped the moon goddess as they believed that the practice would bring them a plentiful harvest the following year.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD), the Mid-Autumn Festival was as popular as Chinese New Year. People enjoyed many different activities to celebrate it, such as burning pagodas and performing the fire dragon dance.
Worshipping the moon could involve placing a large table outside in the middle of the yard or garden under the moon, and putting offerings, such as fruit and snacks, on the table. The sacrificial offerings would include apples, plums, grapes and incense, but mooncakes and watermelons (pomelos in the south) were the most important. The watermelon skin would be sliced and opened up into a lotus shape when offered as a sacrifice.
The tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols. At the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the Han people’s resistance army wanted to overthrow the rule of the Mongols, so they planned an uprising together. But they had no way to inform other Han people who wanted to join them of the time of the uprising without being discovered by the Mongols. The military counselor of the Han people’s resistance army, Liu Bowen, came up with the strategy of using mooncakes. Liu Bowen asked his soldiers to write “uprising on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival” on slips of paper, put them in mooncakes, and then sell them to the other Han people.
When the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came, a huge uprising broke out and the Han people succeeded in battle. From then on, people ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising.
Today, it is still an occasion for friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, which is a symbol of harmony and unity. The festival is celebrated with many cultural or regional customs, including burning incense in reverence to deities, performing lion dances and carrying brightly lit lanterns.
As the weather begins to cool and the days grow shorter, our thoughts turn to autumn.
We love an excuse to update our decor, and there’s no reason why the interior of our homes shouldn’t reflect the changes outside. So why not embrace the season’s beautiful colours? The harvest months showcase the earth’s richest hues, from burnt oranges to metallic sheens.
We borrowed the above image of autumn leaves and its associated colour palette from the Littletree Designs blog, and it’s a great place to start with any seasonal scheme. Use of this warm, inviting colour palette will instantly add a cosy feel to any home.
Much Oriental and Chinese furniture uses colours borrowed from autumn. Some of my favourite pieces from the Shimu collection are those in muted reds and oranges. I particularly like this antique painted grain cabinet dating from around 1900. The original lacquer remains and the original paintings can clearly be seen, showing figures in bright silk clothing including one who appears to be begging not to receive a flogging!
As well as antiques, Shimu stocks a range of reproduction pieces, and our ‘China Seasons’ collection includes many pieces which suit the shades of this season.
This range is made up of gorgeously lacquered and painted Chinese cabinets, each one handcrafted and finished using traditional techniques. Every item is unique – both individual and beautiful.
I love this pair of lacquer cabinets in a classic Chinese red. The doors and drawers are in a contrasting soft cream, decorated with monochrome paintings of a mountain landscape.
Chinese culture is endlessly rich and fascinating, and we occasionally like to dip in and focus on a subject we think you will find interesting. Today we’re taking a look at the ancient art of kung fu.
Chinese kung fu, also known as wushu or Chinese martial arts, is well known in the West as an example of traditional Chinese culture. It is probably one of the earliest and most long-lasting sports that uses both brawn and brain.
The origins of kung fu
The theory of kung fu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy. Over its long history it has developed as a unique combination of exercise, self-defence, self-discipline and art.
Chinese kung fu can be dated back to primeval society. At that time people used cudgels to fight against wild beasts but gradually gained more experience in self defence. When the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC) began, hunting was considered an important part of kung fu training.
The theory of kung fu
Chinese kung fu is a structure of theory and practice and combines the techniques of self-defence with an emphasis on well being. A distinction is made between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ kung fu. It is said that in external kung fu, you exercise ‘your tendons, bones and skin'; in internal kung fu, you train ‘your spirit, your qi, and your mind’. For this reason it is said that internal kung fu can continue later in life, even when the external body starts to let us down.
Taijiquan (pronounced tie-jee-chwen), and also known as tai chi, is a Taoist internal martial art and is popular in Western culture. It is said that taijiquan was developed by the Taoist immortal Chang San-Feng, who is said to have drawn inspiration for the art by watching a fight between a snake and an aggressive eagle (history does not tell us who won!).
Chinese Qi Gong
Qi gong (literally ‘breath exercise’) is an invaluable part of traditional Chinese medicine. Its primary aim was the search for longevity of life, with the ultimate aim of immortality. This is a concept which has captured the Chinese imagination for centuries.
Kung fu heroes in the West
For many of us in the West, our ideas of kung fu have been shaped by the popularity of actors in Hollywood films. Here are a few of our ‘Hollywood heros’.
Bruce Lee (1940 – 1973) was a Chinese-American martial artist and actor, who is considered by some as the most influential martial artist of the 20th century and an important cultural icon. He used Wing Chun, a branch of Chinese kung fu, as his base, learned from the influences of other martial arts, and later created his own martial art philosophy called Jeet Kune Do. His most famous films are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death.
Jackie Chan (1954) is a Hong Kong martial artist, actor and singer. He began his film career as a stuntman in the Bruce Lee films. Now a cultural icon, he is widely known for injecting comedy and stunts into his martial arts performances. In 2008 he sang at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He has starred in over 100 films – some famous ones include Rumble in the Bronx, Rush Hour, and Who Am I.
Jet Li (1963) was born in Beijing and is a five-time national wushu champion. After retiring from wushu at the age of 17, he went on to star in many martial arts films, of which the most notable are the Once Upon A Time in China series, portraying famous folk hero Wong Fei Hung. His roles in Hollywood films include being a villain in Lethal Weapon 4, acting alongside Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables, as well as Hero, Fearless, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
And finally… Kung Fu Panda: the much loved cartoon panda, voiced by Jack Black, who is now starring in his third film.
I spent most of Tuesday with the other main antique dealer that I use in Beijing who continues to source a wonderful selection. These are mostly from Shanxi province but he also always has some lovely rustic tables from Henan along with the odd painted sideboard from Gansu and carved pieces from Shaanxi. The finish that he specialises in is very natural – not at all over-restored or heavily varnished – and my favourite pieces on each of our containers tend to be from him.
This time around I lined up plenty to go on our next container and probably the one after that, with the highlights being a gorgeous old altar table from Beijing, stripped back to its natural wood colour. At around 250 years old and with a beautiful deep grain in the elm wood, it oozes character. There are still old burn marks on the top – signs of its use to hold ancestor offerings – and the offset tenons that secure the table top are an indication of its age, as these are a feature not seen on later pieces.
An unusual and very elegant pair of side tables from Shanxi was another favourite. Also in elm, these each have three drawers and narrow, elongated legs that end in delicate ‘horse hoof’ feet. I also selected a couple of very old Shaanxi pieces with wonderful carvings. These are becoming few and far between these days and prices have increased considerably over recent years but they are beautiful items. The relief carvings on the drawers of one table in particular are stunning – showing four Chinese lions and stylised dragons.
There is still time to choose a few more pieces before I leave Beijing tomorrow evening, but I’m delighted with what we have lined up so far. As ever, I’m looking forward to sharing my finds with you on the website over the coming weeks and receiving everything soon for display in our showroom. We’ll be posting a few highlights on our Facebook page once I get back too so if you want a sneak preview of more of my selection be sure to ‘like’ us for updates.