Early/mid-Qing, nanmu body, elm top, Shanxi. Fine workmanship, quality material, original rich coloring; excellent condition.
33½” h. 39½” w. 21¼” d.
Nanmu is a highly-prized furniture-making wood in China. Ming literati writing frequently mentioned this wood as material ‘par excellence’. It has a rich reddish-brown or olive-brown color, is resistant to decay and has minimal warping or splitting.
This pair of corner-leg side tables were made for high officials. It exhibits fine, traditional style workmanship. The recessed waist has openwork carving of the ‘continuous life’ motif, also referred to as “the stylized running dragon”, a typical design of the emperor Qianlong period (1736-1795). This waist section is securely attached to the top frame, which has a floating panel at the top, and two stretchers underneath spanning the middle part with tenon ends showing on the outside of the framework. The legs are tenoned through the frame members at the corners. The mid-point of each apron is carved in relief with the “ruyi’ and beaded scrolling “mystic clouds” design, also typical of the Qianlong period. This archaic cloud design means a wish for good fortune to come from above. The straight legs are shaped with flanges, and terminate in hoof feet, a design favored by high officials. As the front and back of this table are identically designed, each table can be placed in the middle of a room. The officials used this kind of tables as wine, games, or writing tables.
Due to fine workmanship and the use of quality materials, the pair survived in excellent condition. Much of the original dark reddish-brown lacquer remains intact. The pair was discovered in Shanxi after China opened to the West and was deemed by Chinese antique furniture experts there to be rare as the style and material used indicate it used to belong to high officials. Since it is quite hard to find quality antique furniture in a matching pair, it is more valuable collected together. Its simple elegance will enrich any room it is placed in today.