|About Chinese Furniture||About Korean Furniture||About Tibetan Furniture|
About Chinese Furniture
Determining how much restoration should be done creates a dilemma or even controversy amongst Chinese antique furniture collectors. As with any antique furniture, the most valuable pieces are those in un-restored condition with the fewest blemishes. These pieces are available, but hard to find. As one might expect, these pieces are expensive but still less than comparable Western antiques.
As has been written, most Chinese antique furniture had gone through a rough time, first at the hands of Mao Tse Tung’s Red Guards and later under new owners. The Red Guards carted much of the furniture off to giant warehouses, “owned” by the People’s Liberation Army, where it sat for the better part of a decade. After Mao passed, much of it was redistributed, with no consideration of its original owners. A new owner in a remote village might receive a piece once owned by a scholar and used it carelessly in his daily life, leaving it with gouges, cracks, breaks and worn coloring. Such “provenance” describes the fate of a significant portion of Chinese furniture that now finds its way to Western shores.
It is important to look at these antiquated pieces from a Chinese point of view, not a Western one. There is cultural value in pieces that have been worn down and worn out. They tell an accurate story of changes in the Chinese society. Knowledge is the key word for collectors as well as restorers. One must know the object’s history and uses and restore only when absolutely sure the action would not risk damaging the integrity of the piece. The aim of restoration should be to facilitate the perception, appreciation and understanding, while respecting as far as possible it’s aesthetic, historic and physical properties. Chinese craftsmen were masters of layering different colors to produce a desired tone and depth in the final finish. Any major effort at reproduction is time-consuming, expensive, and often beyond the reach of modern-day craftsmen. The goal of restoration should be to refinish in such a way that preserves and enhances the existing patina. That patina—worn colors, bare woods, mottled appearances—are what make antique furniture so exciting! If treated well in the refinishing process, these antiques could become lively and warm additions to a room filled with Western décor, old or new.
Chinese Domestic or Vernacular Furniture
Chinese furniture is unique in the furniture tradition of the world. When created by highly skilled craftsmen, Chinese furniture can be viewed as a fine art, functional sculpture in wood that transcend time and place, and be at home in a contemporary American house as they were in Chinese houses for which they were created. Reproductions in no way match the artistry and beauty of the original pieces.
We have a huge collection of Chinese classical and vernacular furniture we acquired when china opened to the outside world in the 1990s. They date from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) to early 20th century. The collection was directed by an expert who studied under a Shanxi antique teacher. Chinese classical furniture has been seen as a significant part of the furniture tradition. We think there is much to be explored concerning Chinese domestic furniture as they truly reveal the richness and complexity of the life of the majority of the Chinese people. We welcome connoisseurs and collectors to come to our gallery to study some of these pieces.
About Korean Furniture
Authentic antique Korean traditional furniture is rare, even in Korea. This is at least partially because of the drain of traditional objects from Korea into Japan and the West. After the many wars Korea fought with its neighbors, many pieces were burned as firewood so the people could survive the bitter cold winters with wind blowing in from Mongolia and Siberia. With the dearth of original pieces, reproductions have become popular with salvaged old wood. Antiques that have been preserved in good condition are rare and are quite expensive. Pieces that are priced comparatively low in tourist areas are, more often than not, reproductions.
Korean furniture in general has a quietness and dignity that does not call attention to itself but rather fits into most interiors with grace and ease. It seems at home in “mixed” contemporary settings as in traditional surroundings. The Korean “model” is based on Neo-Confucian model that existed throughout the Chosen, or Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), when Koreans of every social class lived by Neo-Confucianism in their political, socio-economic, cultural, educational, and every aspects of daily life. This model required unselfconsciousness and simplicity of life. Furniture was characterized by restrain and austere simplicity of line and proportion. Yi woodcraft rejected unnecessary lines and decorations in order to substantiate the inner quality, the character and personality, of the material. The resulting product often shows a daring simplicity, with ample unadorned space but of well-planned proportion.
Yi craftsman also seemed to project a “sense” of material. He did not try to force his material to perform, for example, to insert his own ideas on age-old construction techniques or use “cover-up” decorations; rather, he let his work flow with the character and any peculiarity of the material. It is quite clear that he had a strong feeling for wood and wood grain patterns, and used a rather limited range of woods in creative and decorative ways. Most often, wood with an attractive grain was split into panels, which were used in a balanced, mirror-image composition on the front of a chest. When metal fittings, carvings, mother-of-pearl inlay, and painted ox horn sometimes appear on furniture, no matter how impressive such detail work is, it seems to take second place beside the form it is meant to complement and embellish. The Yi craftsman was more concerned about the whole object rather than the parts. The resulting product always meets the dictate of simplicity of line. Artless directness is a great part of the appeal of Korean furniture. It becomes easy to see why Korean furniture is east to live with and complements most surroundings, modern or traditional.
The dating of Korean antique furniture is difficult. The country has a long tradition of furniture-making during the long Chosen, or Yi dynasty, but furniture production remains relatively unchanged. This is due in part to the very conservative and insular nature of Korean society during the second half of the dynasty when, as mentioned, the socio-political structure was based on Neo-Confucianism. The most notable form of furniture are the chests, which are little more than boxes with straight lines. Curves do appear but are mainly on legs of chests, desks, and book storage cabinets. The dating is further exasperated by the lack of knowledge and misconceptions of the early Korean society. To the West, Korea was the “Hermit Kingdom”. Accordingly, experts have difficulty accurately dating Korean furniture and therefore date most of them to the 19th century. 18th century pieces, not to mention 17th century ones, are extremely rare, and are most likely found only in museums.
About Tibetan Furniture
There is no tradition of fine furniture in Tibet, as there is in China. Since only softwoods, such as pine and cedar were available on the high plateau, the emphasis was not on the wood, as in Chinese hardwood furniture, but on painted decorations. Like all other areas of Tibetan art, these often reveal certain defining character relating to a strong Buddhist culture, typically taking on Tantric practices originating from India.
Because of their largely nomadic existence, most ordinary Tibetans had little if any furniture. There were no chairs, as people preferred to sit on the rug, on the floor or a low platform. Small tables, some portable, were used to serve food and drink, and the household shrine would have a stand or altar table on which offerings could be placed. Chests were used to store precious things. Monasteries needed large cabinets to store the vast quantities of precious silks, thangkas, and Buddhist scriptures they accumulated through trade and donations.
The eight auspicious Buddhist emblems, including the lotus, the vase, and endless knots, are common motifs on furniture, as are the Tibetan snow lions (protectors of Tibetan Buddhist faith), the Zipaks (a legendary animal representing the guardian of the temple), and the deer (a reference to Shakyamuni Buddha’s first formal teaching after his enlightenment at the Deer Park outside Varanasi). Other often used motifs were the dragon, phoenix, floral, cloud, and geometric designs. The front panels may also be scenes from everyday life, mythical stories, landscapes, or deities in their different settings. In general, the imagery and vibrant colors of Tibetan furniture reflect the warm and cheerful character of the Tibetan people. Yak butter and an exceptionally dry climate on the high plateau help in the preservation of much of the exquisite painted furniture. Still, often thick layers of grime built up over centuries of exposure to the smoke and grease of the yak butter lamps and stoves must be painstakingly removed to reveal the beautiful colors. Traces of the grease help to authenticate antiquity of a piece.
Antique Tibetan painted furniture is rare today and commands a high price in the world market. Continued interest in the West makes the production of furniture a thriving activity for Tibetans who moved to neighboring Nepal due to political problems at home. These new furniture do not have the same value as old ones, so buyers beware!