Arriving this month - some new favourites for our antique collection
Despite the huge disruption caused by Covid and the subsequent shipping and supply chain crisis, we have continued to stock up during these strange times with both our handcrafted, reproduction ranges and with more wonderful Chinese antiques. Whilst the huge increase in the cost of shipping containers around the world and the inability to get over to China in person has provided some challenges, we have worked closely with our regular contacts and suppliers to select and ship what I am confident is one of the finest collections of Chinese antique furniture available in Europe.
With a container of antiques due to arrive with us in a few weeks and another being lined up to ship very soon, I thought I would pick out just a few of my favourite pieces coming into stock later this month. I am in the unusual position of not having seen these 'in the flesh' myself yet due to current restrictions, so am particularly excited for this shipment to arrive. There are some truly special, rarer items that I can't wait to unpack and display out in our showroom. These are from a supplier that we have worked with for many years who always has a wonderful selection of antiques available, mostly from Shanxi province where many of the better quality pieces were produced and which survived the ravages of China's recent past better than most.
First up is this superb medicine chest from Shanxi - certainly one of the finest I have seen in my many years of sourcing Chinese antiques. The fourty-two small drawers are each labelled to indicate their original contents of herbs, plants and roots used in Chinese medicine. The labels are meant to be read clockwise, with each of the four sets of characters referring to the contents of the four compartments that each drawer is divided into. The worn, black finish over the elm wood is original, providing a contrasting background to the lighter coloured lettering and simple ring handles. Chests like this were used in the homes of wealthier individuals as well as by apothecaries and are increasingly rare, especially ones in such nice condition.
Also from Shanxi is this tall backed, elegant pair of 'yoke-back' chairs. One of several pairs of chairs due in later this month, this one is particularly striking with the elongated curved backrests and rear posts. The top and bottom of the backrests are supported with iron brackets, and each one is decorated near the top with a delicate through carving of a deer - a symbol in China for longevity. The pronounced, pointed curves on the chairs' top rails is a distinctive style of chairs from Shanxi province. Again, these are made from elm wood, with the original dark finish worn especially on the seats and footrests to show the paler colour of the wood itself. While not as highly prized as the rare hardwoods such as huang huali that were used for furniture of the court and high ranking officials, elm was a popular wood for furniture making in Shanxi and other nothern parts of China, being easy to work and with an attractive, wide-patterned grain.
Head much further west to Gansu province and you'll find that most of the furniture produced around a similar time would have been made from pine, mostly more rudimentary in style and often brightly painted and decorated. In the western part of the province, though, walnut trees were abundant and so this was also favoured by carpenters. Walnut is a beautiful wood for furniture making - smooth to the touch and with a rich, honey tone - and some of my favourite antiques over the years have been in walnut from Gansu.
There is one quite classic design from the province that used to be commonly found in the large, dusty warehouses of the antique dealers in and around Beijing, but which I have not come across for several years. With what are referred to as 'deer shaped' feet and an extended top surface over doors and shallow drawers, the style is one that was particuar to Gansu furniture and we were able to source and sell quite a few of these in the early years of Shimu. I was therefore very pleased to see the one shown here available, especially as it is in the more natural finish of the walnut wood rather than being over restored. The central doors here are original, but the doors to either side would once have been fixed panels, cut recently to provide easier access to the inside. It is a beautiful, imposing cabinet that would provide a huge amount of storage space in a modern home.
Camphor was another popular wood for Chinese carpenters, being quite stable and with an even, smooth texture. Part of the laurel family, camphor has a natural, strong scent that acts as a natural repellent to moths and other insects. It was therefore often used for blanket chests or cabinets used for storing clothes and fabrics. This lovely camphor chest is a fine example - produced in Hebei province near Beijing over a hundred years ago and with a fine golden tone to the wood. With large dovetail joints and a circular brass clasp on the front (in this case a replacement for the lost original hardware), the trunk is typical of storage chests used both in the home, where they would be stacked on top of each other, or when travelling.
Lastly, heading west again to Qinghai province, the lovely painted sideboard below is another real favourite. Qinghai furniture was usually made from pine or, as in this case, poplar wood and, like Gansu furniture, brightly lacquered and painted with favoured curios and possessions designed to display the weatlh and status of the owner. This one is in the original deep red finish, with contrasting sepia tones for the doors, which are in this case painted with landscapes and flowers - the peonies also symbolising high rank and status. As in neighbouring Gansu province, large wooden containers like this one were usually meant for storing grain or other foodstuffs, with removable board lids in the top rather than doors in the front. They are normally repurposed as sideboards when restored, creating more practical but beautiful and unusual storage cabinets for modern use while retaining the character and sense of history of the original piece. With its deep red finish, original paintings and attractive, contrasting colours, this one would certainly make a real statement piece in a more contemporary setting.
All of these stunning pieces are already available to order on our website, along with dozens of other antiques arriving later this month. Look out for much more soon under our new arrivals section as we are getting ready to send over and photograph another shipment from China soon.