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Sotheby's Hong Kong to show the MQJ Collection of Ming furniture
This is possibly the world’s largest ever exhibition of Ming furniture. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

HONG KONG.- During its autumn sale week, Sotheby’s Hong Kong will present an exhibition of the private collection of the world’s foremost expert in and leading dealer of Ming furniture, Grace Wu Bruce. Perhaps the greatest collection of Ming furniture in private hands, The Best of The Best: The MQJ Collection of Ming Furniture will be on public view at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 29 September to 2 October 2017. A new book by Grace Wu Bruce under the same title, documenting each item of furniture in the collection, is being published to coincide with the exhibition.

The Pinnacle of Art and Workmanship of Ming Furniture

Formed over the past 30 years and little known to the public, The MQJ Collection, short for Muquju ('Lodge of Wood Delights'), comprises more than 100 pieces (sets) of museum-grade Ming furniture of all major types, mainly made of huanghuali and zitan. The collection spans 11 categories, from tables and chairs to incense stands and beds, all beautifully designed, superbly crafted and in excellent condition. Among them are rare surviving examples of their kind which are being unveiled to the market for the very first time.

For a long time, Ming furniture remained a neglected field until Mr. Wang Shixiang, renowned Chinese scholar and Palace Museum specialist, hailed the ‘Father of Chinese Furniture’, published his book Classic Chinese Furniture in 1985, now considered the bible on the subject. The publication brought to light the beauty and magnificence of Chinese furniture design and workmanship, sparking an immense amount of interest in Ming furniture and leading to an influx of quality works onto the market. Most pieces from the MQJ Collection were acquired during this ‘golden age’ of Ming furniture collecting in the 1980s and 1990s, a feat that would be impossible to repeat today. The name of the collection, ‘Muquju’, was fittingly bestowed by Mr. Wang Shixiang as a gesture of endorsement of its exceptional quality.

“It is our privilege to once again collaborate with Ms. Grace Wu Bruce,” says Kevin Ching, Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s Asia. “Grace is an internationally-revered expert in classical Chinese furniture. Her MQJ Collection is the distilled product of 30 years of relentless collecting and continued refinement – all done with great passion and knowledge. Its quality and rarity is second to none. Sotheby’s is extremely honoured to host this unprecedented exhibition, and to become the first to showcase the MQJ Collection in its entirety. I would like to once again thank Grace for her support and trust in Sotheby’s, and her professional advice and guidance in the planning of this show.”

Grace Wu Bruce said: “The debut of the MQJ Collection is a personal cause which I hold close to heart. Sotheby’s and I have spent the entire summer tirelessly staging what could possibly be the most prodigious Ming furniture exhibition ever seen. I would like to extend my gratitude to Sotheby’s for not only their vision in the state-of-the-art installation, but also the use of interactive technology to bring out the best of the Collection. I sincerely hope that this exhibition will provide an opportunity for everyone to appreciate the very pinnacle of Chinese furniture.”

From Collector to Renowned Furniture Dealer

Known affectionately as the ‘Queen of Huanghuali’, Grace Wu Bruce began her collecting journey at an early age, and her passion for Ming furniture started with her visits to museums in Europe and the US in the 1970s. Her passion was so strong that she not only travelled all over the globe in search for great pieces, but also engaged in further studies and even acquainted herself with antique furniture restoration to further her understanding on this subject. In 1983, Grace met her mentor Mr. Wang Shixiang, who subsequently played a pivotal role over the years as Grace pursued her collecting passion and established a career in the field. Her first Ming furniture exhibition was held in Hong Kong in 1985, which coincided with the launch of Mr. Wang’s book Classic Chinese Furniture. Pieces from Grace’s personal collection were exhibited as representative examples, illustrating her influence in the world of Ming furniture even then.

In 1987, Grace turned her collecting passion into her life-long career by opening her first gallery in Hong Kong under the Chinese name ‘Jia Mu Tang’, meaning ‘Hall of Beautiful Woods’, an evocative title chosen by Mr. Wang. Over the next 30 years Grace cemented her reputation as a leading expert in Chinese furniture, training her eye and developing an astute sense of quality through the sheer quantity of pieces she handled.

A prolific author, Grace has written numerous books and articles that were published internationally, including Chinese Classical Furniture by Oxford University Press and Two Decades of Ming Furniture by the Forbidden City Publishing House, Beijing. She has curated landmark museum exhibitions around the world, at the Guimet Museum in Paris and the Palace Museum in Beijing to name a few, and exhibited at leading international antique fairs in London, New York, Beijing, Maastricht and Basel. In addition, many of the most distinguished Chinese furniture collections have been formed with her advice and assistance, including the Lu Ming Shi Collection assembled by Belgian collector Mr. Philippe De Backer, as well as The Dr. S Y Yip Collection from Hong Kong, both achieving remarkable results at auction.

“Grace has great knowledge in what she deals in, both in detail and overall, so I would assume that the furniture she is going to sell is going to be of first class, of rare examples in exceptionally good quality.” --Mr. Giuseppe Eskenazi, Internationally-renowned Chinese art dealer

“I bought virtually everything from Grace ... Grace has the deepest knowledge [and] the best ability to source and restore Ming furniture.” --Belgian collector Mr. Philippe De Backer, Owner of the Lu Ming Shi Collection 5

Passing on the Legacy

Grace developed the vision of building a sizable and representative repository of Ming furniture in the mid-1990s. In 1995, The Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture in California decided to disperse its collection. Mr. Wang lamented the disbandment, wishing the collection could have been kept intact, as there was no other public institution that housed such a comprehensive group of Ming furniture at the time. This very thought inspired Grace to take on the mission of forming her own extensive collection to be passed on to future generations, which led to the birth of the MQJ Collection, quintessential in its content and with an unrivalled depth and quality. Unveiling the entire MQJ Collection for the first time, the current exhibition will provide collectors and art lovers alike with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness and appreciate the epitome of Chinese heritage and culture.

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