Busy at the market, marvels from Mongolia
I left Shanghai in the pouring rain and arrived to clear blue skies in Beijing on Saturday. It’s been a busy couple of days, with Sunday spent at the main Beijing market picking up some smaller pieces – mostly to accessorise the showroom, and today starting to select the furniture for our next container of antiques.
The market was as busy as ever, with an incredible array of items covering everything from huge stone carvings to textiles, bronzes, jade and pearls. There are rows and rows of stalls over several acres so it is easy to spend hours browsing and trying to spot the hidden gems amongst the junk. There were a few things that I wanted to stock up on for the shop such as some nice little watercolours and calligraphy brushes, but there is always something new that catches the eye. This time I picked up some more Miao jewellery – bracelets and hair pins, and found some wonderful old suzani fabrics. These are actually from Uzbekistan and other central Asian countries rather than China – decorative fabrics usually in cotton and traditionally embroidered by young women to present to their husbands on their wedding day as part of a dowry. The ones I chose are around 40 or 50 years old and the needlework is superb. They will make beautiful throws and bedspreads and I hope to have some of these available on the web in a few weeks.
I spent today with the main supplier I source antiques from here in Beijing. Like many of the workshops in China these days, they have moved their business over the years from dealing mainly in antiques to reproduction furniture, as the number of good quality antiques available has dwindled. While they hold less stock than they used to they will still bring new items in from time to time to restore and there are always some nice pieces to choose from. The highlight this time was a wonderful old black painted armoire from Shanxi province – the type of piece that is difficult to find these days and whose value is starting to increase quite rapidly. Although restored, the cabinet is still in a very original condition, from the thick black lacquer to the hardware and paintings showing scenes from Chinese legend. The cabinet is conservatively 250 years old, most likely dating from the beginning of the Qing dynasty or even end of the Ming as the painted design is typical of that period.
We also paid a visit to a neighbouring warehouse – another dealer who has been in the antiques business for many years. Here I selected several more pieces to ship, including a number of Mongolian cabinets and trunks. Thought not yet as rare as original Tibetan pieces, Mongolian furniture is also becoming quite difficult to find and this particular dealer over the years has had one of the widest selections in Beijing. Again he has slowly been moving away from antiques towards production furniture, and now has only a small selection left. Mongolian pieces are distinctive by their paintings and especially the colours – usually flowers and animals in greens, reds and yellows. The once vivid colours fade over the years resulting in a subtle, characterful finish. As well as one or two nice little cabinets I picked up and old trunk, still with its original stand, typical of the type of furniture used in a ‘yurt’ – the large tents used by the nomadic tribes of Mongolia.
I’m out tomorrow with one of my other contacts in Beijing to visit a few more warehouses. Each one tends to have a slightly different selection in terms of the regions that their pieces come from and the type of finish they use when carrying out any restoration, so it is always good to visit a few different places. I’ll report any interesting finds in the next couple of days.