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Huanghuali

Huanghuali

Huanghuali yokeback armchairs, dated to the Qing dynasty, 17th century, a period considered a golden age of Chinese furniture when great materials, elegant design and superb craftsmanship combined to produce what some consider 'perfect' chairs.
This pair was correctly identified by Gotheborg discussion board members and eventually sold at Sotheby's Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction, New York, 11th & 12th September 2012, lot 218.

These types of chairs used to have metal mounts. The shadow of the mounts still remains on this pair. Many chairs have had such shadows polished away.
Illustrations courtesy of Sotheby's

Huanghuali, or "yellow flowering pear" wood, is a rare species of rosewood, mainly produced in Hainan province and once adorned imperial abodes. It is botanically classified as Dalbergia odorifera. Huanghuali has witnessed a sharp price rise in recent years due to increased demand and limited supply. The volume of new huanghuali wood originating in Hainan is so small it has now been placed under State protection and might risk going extinct.

Originally know as huali or hualu, the modifier huang (yellowish-brown) was added in the early twentieth century to describe old huali wood whose surfaces had mellowed to a yellowish tone due to long exposure to light.

The color can range from reddish-brown to golden-yellow. Historical references point to Hainan Island as the main source of huali. However, variations in the color, figure, and density suggest similar species sourced throughout North Vietnam, Guangxi, Indochina and the other isles of the South China Sea.

The sweet fragrance of huali distinguishes it from the similar appearing but pungent-odored hongmu.

The finest huanghuali has a translucent shimmering surface with abstractly figured patterns that delight the eye. Those appearing like 'ghost faces' were highly prized.

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