Freeman’s October 18 Asian Arts sale offers opportunities for buyers to collect Chinese furniture and furnishings in this highly sought-after material—but what exactly is it? Freeman’s specialists weigh in.
10/03/2022 Latest News, News and Film, Asian Arts
Lot 28 I A Pair of Chinese Huanghuali Armchairs I Sold: $948,000
In the realm of furniture collecting, one factor takes on heightened importance: material. And when it comes to Chinese furniture—which can be constructed in everything from bamboo to cedar—huanghuali is an exemplary material whose market value has soared in recent years. Here, we break down some of the most commonly asked questions about the rare and highly coveted material in advance of Freeman’s October 18 Asian Arts auction.
Meaning “yellow flowering pear” in Chinese, huanghuali wood is also known as Chinese rosewood or fragrant rosewood. A hardwood known not only for its lustrous, yellowish beauty, but also its hardiness and staying power, huanghuali became a trusted material for cabinetmakers and furniture designers in China in the Ming and Qing dynasties—and its unique qualities are still valued and admired today.
The fragrant rosewood tree is native to Southern China and Vietnam, but following overharvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries, the species became—and remains—endangered, with contemporary harvesting all but impossible. As a result, Classical Chinese furniture constructed in huanghuali has skyrocketed in value, with collectors eager to acquire works like a pair of huanghuali armchairs from the late Ming to Qing dynasty, which commanded a remarkable $948,000 against an estimate of $80,000-120,000 in Freeman’s April 2022 Asian Arts auction.
Lot 148 I Two Chinese Huanghuali Brush Pots I Estimate: $2,000-3,000
Since the late 14th century, fragrant rosewood has been used as a building material for everything from small, intricate frames and chests to larger pieces like cabinets and tables. Freeman’s October 18 Asian Arts auction reflects this range, with offerings including a pair of Chinese huanghuali brush pots (Lot 148; estimate: $2,000-3,000), elegant and coveted items once used to store brushes used by calligraphy scribes.
Lot 143 I A Rare Pair of Chinese Huanghuali Yoke-Back Armchairs I Estimate: $8,000-12,000
Part of the reason why huanghuali furniture continues to command such impressive prices today is because of its sturdiness and longevity, meaning that pieces constructed in fragrant rosewood as early as the 16th or 17th century are still suitable for contemporary use. One such example—a rare pair of Chinese huanghuali yoke-back armchairs (Lot 143)—are offered in the October sale at an estimate of $80,000-120,000. Formerly in the collection of a retired American foreign service officer, the chairs are a fine example of not only stately Chinese craftsmanship, but the impressive provenance that often accompanies sought-after huanghuali works.