Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Unlocking Classical Chinese Furniture

[All images in this post ©Classical Chinese Furniture, by Marcus Flacks
 The Vendome Press 2012]

In my experience, it's rare to encounter someone who can't appreciate a Ming chair or stool. The sculptural, iconic forms just elicit a positive response. Classic Chinese pieces are to a room what an old black cashmere sweater and beloved pair of jeans are to a wardrobe: endlessly versatile.

With his new book, Classical Chinese Furniture, antiquarian Marcus Flacks helps us understand what we find so alluring.

From the very beginning of his generously-sized volume, Flacks is quick to acknowledge books that have come before: seminal books like Wang Shixiang's Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture that are encyclopedic in scope and answer pretty much any question one might ever have regarding a Ming or Qing table or chair. In contrast, Flacks describes his own tome as essentially a survey of the most extraordinary pieces he's handled or seen over the past three decades -- a record of his personal passions. But that said, his book is also a really valuable resource.

Much like the clean-lined furniture he loves, the book's format is straightforward. Starting with the Han dynasty, he offers a brief tour through the history of Chinese furniture, covering form and function, and explains why the "golden age," in terms of design and craftsmanship, is thought to extend from the Ming to Qing dynasties (late 16th through early 18th centuries).

Changing tastes, recent trends in collecting, pairs vs. singles, and decisions about whether or not (or how much) to clean certain pieces are other subjects he explores, then it's on to the book's core: wonderfully large-scale images of 52 standout antiques, each accompanied by concise commentary. Just don't skip too quickly through the reference section at the back; it's brimming with detailed images of wood grains, furniture in various stages of restoration, joinery, size comparisons and materials.

If richly lacquered Chinese furniture is your obsession, know that Flacks opts not to explore it in depth, explaining that his area of expertise involves simpler hardwood pieces finished with thin translucent lacquers that allow natural grains to glow through (this more organic look was typically favored by Chinese scholars).

But he does delve into highly decorative surface pattern on stone. The intricately carved white marble stools and table are a revelation. Although Chinese stone furniture is less familiar -- perhaps less desirable -- to many collectors, it's a category the author is keen to spotlight. The 17th-century drum stool, above, was carved by a craftsman with great precision and a sharp sense of balance. Compare the all-over pattern to a Kangxi brocade.

As I understand it, most of the pieces Flacks chose to share have not been covered in previous books. And while at first glance some may seem familiar, each has an unusual characteristic. A few examples:

The 17th-century huanghuali wood stool, shown second from the top, has unexpected straight low stretchers and round legs.

The open walnut drum stool, also 17th century and seventh from the top, has remarkably slender and graceful legs, carved bosses (the rows of circles) very close to the top and bottom, and a soft caned seat.

The Ming folding stool, ninth image from the top, has a slatted top instead of a woven seat as well as restrained metalwork with silver inlay, and it is one of only four (with the same form) known to exist.

See more here.

For a jaunt to Southeast Asia, see Duke All Around.


*Chic Provence* said...

This is a real find, you are right, Chinese furniture can work wonders to energize "flat" rooms... brilliant design. I'll look for the book, thanks



*Chic Provence* said...

Yes Chinese pieces can really energize "flat" interiors... this is a great find! thanks for the info on Flacks' new book!
a bientot


Jamie Herzlinger said...

Stunning and so chock full with information! Fantastic post! Love following your blog!
Jamie Herzlinger

Janet said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this book! The pieces are absolutely amazing. And you have such a great way of tying various threads together.