Some highlights from our latest collection of antique furniture

Some highlights from our latest collection of antique furniture

We’ve been busy over the past few weeks editing and adding onto the website all the latest pieces for our Chinese antique furniture collection. These are the pieces that I selected on my last visit to Beijing a couple of months ago, and they are now just waiting to clear customs in Beijing to be shipped to the UK in the next week or so. All being well they will arrive around the end of June, but you can already see the full collection on our website and reserve any item in advance.

I am particularly pleased with the pieces that we have lined up this time. I always try to find an eclectic mix that will appeal to different tastes – painted and more plain pieces, a natural finish or a more classic lacquer and varnish, and I hope this is the case again. In addition there are one or two more unusual and special pieces such as a beautifully carved altar table in poplar wood, a painted book cabinet from Qinghai province with divided sections inside, a painted side cabinet in green lacquer and a particularly nice black lacquer painted armoire from Shanxi province. Each piece has a history and story to tell – I always find myself thinking about who originally owned a piece and what events it would have lived through.

ATK-16067, Shanxi Opera Trunk
ATK-16066, Shanxi Opera Trunk
ATK-16065, Shanxi Opera Trunk
ATK-16028, Shanxi Opera Trunk

Among the collection this time are a number of ‘opera trunks’ from Shanxi province dating from around 1850. Each one is in black lacquer decorated on the front with bright paintings and, in this instance, we have a very good idea of their use and the history behind them. During the mid 19th century Chinese opera troupes would tour the countryside, stopping in varous towns to perform. These trunks were used to store the brightly coloured robes and costumes used during the performances and, as the troupe travelled from town to town, these would be placed on the back of their carts with the paintings facing outwards. The paintings depict scenes from the opera being performed and so,  as the troupe travelled from town to town, they acted as a form of promotion to let the local townspeople know that the opera troupe was in town and what the performance would be.

The paintings on the trunks that I selected in Beijing are still in good condition, the colourful robes and even the expressions on the faces of the characters represented are all clearly visible. The style was for a central painting, showing the opera scene, to be framed with further paintings – usually of flowers, and ours are fine examples. The trunks were normally quite large and a couple of ours have been reduced in depth, making them more suitable in a modern home perhaps to use as a side table.

Another of my favourite types of furniture, for completely different reasons, is the tapered cabinet (known also as a ’round-cornered’ cabinet). This type of piece was common throughout China and is one of the most distinctive styles of furniture as well as one of the most ingenious. The cabinets were made with rounded frames and an extended top. The frames tapered from the floor up, giving an impression of upward, fluid movement. Rather than using metal hinges like the more imposing, solid looking ‘square-cornered’ style cabinets, the doors were made with a rounded frame that would slot directly into holes in the top and bottom frames. This results in an extremely simple, pure profile that I think gives a wonderful elegance to each piece.


We have a few tapered cabinets lined up our Beijing shipment. A couple of these originate from Shandong province on China’s northeast coast, where this style of furniture was particularly common. The third is from Shanxi, made from cypress wood and dating from the beginning of the 19th century. It has a removable centre post and some beautiful decorative scrolling dragons in carved relief on the four drawers at the bottom. This is certainly one of the more special pieces that I found on my last trip to China, and a piece that I am looking forward to seeing again once it arrives from Beijing.

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