Last days in Beijing – finalising our next antique shipment

Last days in Beijing – finalising our next antique shipment

My last couple of days here in Beijing have been spent visiting a few more Chinese antique suppliers, selecting the final pieces that we will ship in a month or so from now. These were all fairly small outfits, but while the overall choice is not so big at these places there are often one or two really interesting pieces that are out of the ordinary and that are unlikely to be found elsewhere.

Yesterday I spent the morning at the workshop of a lady who tends to specialise in antiques from Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu. She usually has a smallish but good quality selection of painted furniture from Shanxi in central China – large armoires or ‘Wedding Cabinets’ in black lacquer, decorated with either figures from legend (more valuable) or flower vases, birds or butterflies, as well as elegant double cabinets or sideboards. What makes many of these pieces special is that they are in a very original condition, with the original paintings and occasionally the original hardware still intact. The price of these pieces has increased quite rapidly over the past few years as they become less common, but they continue to be some of my favourite items of Chinese furniture.

The Gansu pieces are a little more ‘rough and ready’ in construction than those from Shanxi, usually in chunky pine rather than elm wood, but in many cases still with their early painted decoration. These include old grain buffets with a distinctive black and red lacquer finish, with the once removable boards in the top now sealed and the front panels converted into doors to turn them into more practical sideboards.

Perhaps most distinctive are the cabinets and coffers from Shaanxi province – not to be confused with Shanxi, which neighbours it to the South. Shaanxi is home to the city of Xian – the ancient capital of China during the reign of the emperor Qin and famous for his terracotta warrior army. Often older than the antique pieces from other areas of China, Shaanxi furniture is usually decorated with some wonderful, deep carvings on drawers and doors. One cabinet in particular that I saw yesterday was exquisitely decorated – the carved drawers, doors and side panels all delicately carved and surrounded by contrasting rounded frames in a worn red lacquer. Again this type of piece, particularly one in such good condition and with such refined carvings, is difficult to come by and has a price to match. The pieces tend to be quite deep and cumbersome, so are not always the most practical, but have a character that you don’t find in furniture from any other part of the world.

Shanxi Carved Altar Table
Detail of front panel and apron
Detail of carving from Shanxi altar table
Detail of of Shanxi carved table

At the last couple of warehouses that I visited there were again a few pieces that really stood out. Amongst other items I selected an elegant ‘round cornered’ cabinet in cypress wood, with the distinctive tapered profile that distinguishes this design and with delicate dragons in carved relief on the bottom drawers. Another highlight was a beautiful altar table in poplar wood from Shanxi province, again with some superbly worked open carvings on the front panels and apron showing flowers, as well as fruit vines and rats – one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac and an animal in ancient times seen as a bringer of prosperity.

This China visit seems to have gone by faster than ever but I’m very pleased with all the pieces that we have lined up to ship – I think there is a good and varied selection and I am already looking forward to being able to display some of them in our showroom in Saltaire in a couple of months. I hope to have photos for all the pieces I’ve selected on this trip in the next few weeks so they should be available to view and to order on our website in May.

It’s now time for one last dinner with a couple of my contacts here who helped set up visits with the warehouses today before I head to the airport. I’ll post again soon, hopefully with some further details and photos of one or two of the most interesting pieces from my visit.


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