Black Painted Book Cabinet
Shanxi, circa 1900
Chinese cabinets like this one, squarish in shape with two doors over a thick base, are often referred to as book cabinets, but in fact were more commonly used for storing clothes and other personal effects. They were made to be placed on top of a matching larger, wardrobe sized unit to provide additional storage space. Over time the two parts usually get separated but these smaller sections are nicely proportioned as storage cabinets on their own.
This one is from Shanxi province and still has its original black lacquer finish, paintings and hardware. The thick black lacquer is largely still intact, though worn and aged in places to give an interesting, crackled effect or to reveal the paler colour of the elm wood base. The paintings in a contrasting red are also worn, but the overall design of flowers and birds can still be made out. The bird on the right hand door is a pheasant, thought by the Chinese to be an ancestor of the legendary phoenix and a symbol of nobility and high rank - possibly inidicating the social status of the original owner. With a single shelf inside, the cabinet would still be ideal for holding books or boardgames today, or use it as a drinks cabinet.
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