Folding horse-back armchairs (jiaoyi) are extremely rare and considered one of the most elegant forms made by the Chinese cabinetmaker. By the Ming dynasty, they had become a designated seat of honour for any travelling dignitary, with the quality of wood defining their high level. This weekend, Sotheby's
auction of the collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung world-renowned collector and philanthropist offered a masterfully constructed Huanghuali folding horse-shoe back armchair a superb example of the timeless and minimalistic aesthetic that characterises Ming dynasty furniture. Conceived to be folded for easy transport, these portable chairs were naturally more prone to damage than other pieces of furniture; few, therefore, could withstand the test of time, making extant examples extremely precious.
Sparking competition from the moment the auctioneer opened bidding, the one-of-a-kind chair soared to $15,873,941, ten times its pre-sale estimate - selling to an Asian private collector.
"The outstanding result of the auction is a true testament and tribute to the exceptional taste and eye of Sir Joseph Hotung, who only ever acquired the very best in the field creating in his London home an extraordinary world of treasures. The furniture in particular is the greatest collection I have had the privilege of working with, bringing together a powerful aesthetic with a highly intellectual scholarly approach. Watching the bids fly in for, and bringing down the gavel on, the exceptionally rare huanghuali folding horseshoe-back armchair, was a career highlight an astonishing, but well-deserved result. If I wasnt auctioneering, I may well have had to take a seat as the final price came in! --Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's Chairman of Asian Arts
Sir Joseph's keen philanthropy in the arts was particularly felt by cultural institutions, with the major gallery of Asian Art in the British Museum named for him opened to great acclaim by Her Majesty The Queen in 1992 and again in 2017 and additional trustee positions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Asia Society, New York, to name a few. Testament to his generosity, Hotung bequeathed almost the entirety of his outstanding collections of early Chinese blue-and-white porcelains and of Jades to the British Museum, where they will be displayed together in what marks one of the most significant bequests in the British Museums recent history.
Alongside this, Sotheby's has been entrusted with offering works from Sir Joseph's personal collection. The second tranche of exceptional pieces will be offered at Sotheby's London on 7 December.