Chinese Antique Furniture

China And The Philippines

Far Eastern furniture, executed under the influence of European designs, is in general strongly characteristic, but in some instances may approach these designs rather closely. Native materials and joining methods usually distinguish even the closest parallels, which may be found in examples made for European residents. Perhaps one of the closest approximations to Western de­sign appeared here recently in a Chippendale settee, carefully following an English outline in its upholstered frame, but with the underframing made of camphor wood.

Native varieties of pine, oak, ash, elm, cedar, beech and walnut may appear in principal surfaces or structural elements of Chinese furniture. Other likely timbers are ebony, teak, rosewood, sandalwood, satinwood, maple, box, cherry and other fruit-woods. Teak is widely believed to be one of the darker and heavier woods, which is incorrect. It is lighter in color and weight than rosewood, with which it is often confused in late productions.

Oriental authorities are occasionally perplexed by calligraphic markings which appear on assembled elements of lacquer furniture, generally in reserves left for this purpose. These vary from usual Chinese or Japanese characters, which indicate the positions of drawers, etc., and cannot be directly associated with either country. Examples on which they appear have followed Chinese forms, and it is possible that these represent collaborations by Chinese artisans, and those of more southerly areas, working in the same or differing production centers.

Other Far Eastern furniture may give more definite evidence of assembly at two different trading points. It is known that much work in lacquer, for export, was carried on in Tongking, Indo China, in addition to the work of Canton and Nanking. Trading factories at various points on the mainland and in the East Indian islands were also capable of executing special work. The lacquer cabinet and stand represents an amalgamation of this type, the cabinet produced in China, the stand at some intermediate shipping point.

A photograph of this cabinet and stand was shown to a dealer who had handled and seen thousands of specimens of Chinese furniture, in the belief that the claw-and-ball feet were derived from the West, not from China. One of many theories advanced more than a generation ago was that this type of foot was introduced in Europe through Spanish and Portuguese contacts with China. However, this was not proven by visual demonstration, and it gave no cognizance to appearances of the claw-and-ball foot in the West during Romanesque times.

The authority agreed that no connection existed between this type of foot and that of a Chinese dragon grasping a pearl. He also stated that this Western form was not adopted in China until first used in Europe, and then only in furniture supplied for this market.

When the role of expert prevents one from permitting such inquiries as inconsistent with assumed authority, a chance to expand knowledge has been eliminated. Had the experts responsible for a “Chinese” label on the mirror mentioned in connection with Fig. 298 inquired of their own authorities on Chinese art, they would have been informed that no such work was ever executed in China. Had they consulted dealers in Portuguese, Spanish or Italian antiques, regarding “Bilbao” mirrors, they would have been similarly informed.

Furniture produced in the Philippine Islands during the eighteenth century was partially affected by Chinese and Spanish influences. These are seen in carved details following the Chinese taste, and in stellate devices which are reminiscent of Moorish effects, inlaid in bone or mother-of-pearl and occasionally in silver. Of the few examples which appear in the West, sideboard tables indicate a former popularity, and are amply proportioned in length and space.

Late Georgian influence is noticeable in some Philippine chairs with caned back and seat panels, or with backs containing radial bar splats. These were accompanied by semi-circular side tables, which also served as the end sections of dining tables. As in other Eastern colonies which were maintained during the nineteenth century, later productions gradually disclosed the effects of the Victorian era.

The most popular timber of the Philippines was the native narra wood. This varies greatly in color, from light golden and brown tones through shades of light or dark red, and may show ripples or fine mottles such as are found in mahogany. Narra is moderately hard and heavy, and excellent to work with in the production of furniture.

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