A pair of 17th-century huanghuali drum stools nets US$1.2m to top Asia Week New York

This season's Asia Week New York has seen many unexpected lots sell beyond pre-sale estimates for remarkable prices. And the Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale staged by Christie's last week was no exception.

Among the various imperial ceramics, it was two furniture made of huanghuali, a highly-prized hardwood, from Ming dynasty (1368–1644) which stole the show – one being a pair of drum stools, which was the most expensive lot of the sale. Carrying a low estimate of US$120,000, it was hammered 10 times at US$1.2 million and sold for US$1.5 million after fees.

The other was an incense stand, which was hammered down 7.6 times its low estimate of US120,000 at US$920,000. With buyer's premium, it fetched US$1.16 million to become the first runner-up. 

Having sold 294 of 343 lots offered, the sale realized a sell-through rate of 85.7% and a sale total of US$20.6 million. 

Lot 793 | A pair of Huanghuali drum stools
Created in 17th century
Height: 46.3 cm

  • The Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, Christie's New York, 19 September 1996, lot 42
  • Property from an important New York collection

Estimate: US$120,000 - 180,000
Hammer Price: US$1,200,000
Sold: US$1,500,000

The charm of Ming (1368–1644) furniture lies in its elegant lines and carved details. During mid-Ming dynasty, China opened its borders and lifted the previously implemented import bans. A great variety of luxury goods had since been introduced from other countries into China. Among them was the precious, now-extinct huanghuali.

Huanghuali is a type of rosewood known for the attractive grain, the rich hues that vary from reddish-brown to honey tones, as well as the natural, sweet scent. They are among other rare tropical hardwoods found in old-growth forests, predominantly on Hainan Island, the smallest and southernmost province in China. Considered to be the king of hardwoods, huanghuali was favoured by Ming and Qing Emperors and furniture made of it was exclusive to imperial families and elite classes.

The present pair of stools is distinguished by the strong curves created by the outward-curving legs, which perfectly balances the rhythmic undulations of the aprons at the top and the bottom. The only decorative element to this nuanced and simple form are the bands of rounded bosses, which are inspired by the bands of nail heads used on drums to fasten animal skins to the frames.

Barrel-form stools are commonly seen with hardwood or marble-inset seats, and surviving examples with mat seats are extremely rare – not to mention having it in pairs. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the present lot elicited enthusiastic biddings and hammered down 10 times its low estimate.

Lot 786 | Rectangular Huanghuali incense table
Created in 16th-17th century
Height: 66.7 cm

  • Darry Fine Art, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1979
  • Private American Collection, Missouri

Estimate: US$120,000 - 180,000
Hammer Price: US$920,000
Sold: US$1,159,200

One of the rarest types of Ming furniture, incense stands were made of square, rectangular, octagonal or various lobed shapes as well as in the round. Their function was for displaying a rock sculpture, fragrant miniature plant, flower vase or an incense burner. As seen on woodblock illustrations to Ming books, they were also seen being placed outdoors for worship.

The present lot, also made of huanghuali, appears in rectangular shape, where the top is set in a thick, molded frame above a tall waist carved with cartouches. The feet are delicately carved in ruyi-forms, an auspicious motif in Chinese culture symbolizing good fortune and longevity.

Lot 813 | A pair of large cloisonné enamel panels
Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795)
137.8 x 71.4 cm

  • The Collection of Jerome C. Neuhoff; Sotheby’s New York, 25 January 1986, lot 24

Estimate: US$150,000 - 250,000
Hammer Price: US$850,000
Sold: US$1,071,000


Cloisonné was introduced to China from Western Asia as early as the Yuan dynasty (1206AD – 1368AD) and flourished during Ming dynasty. It is a technique where copper or bronze wires are bent or curved to outline the decorative pattern painted with enamels.

Known for its bright colour, rich lustre and endurance, cloisonné work was mostly displayed in the imperial court during Ming and Qing dynasties, thus often being considered royal art.

The present cloisonné enamel panels are decorated with numerous Chinese traditional motifs, including cypress, deer, pine and crane – all of which are blessings for eternal longevity. On the back of each panel are two large characters set against bats and auspicious emblems, one meaning vast happiness and the other welcome auspiciousness.    

Lot 927 | A molded and biscuit-reserved Longquan celadon octagonal vase, meiping
Yuan dynasty, 14th century
Height: 25.4 cm

  • Chingwah Lee (1901-1980) Collection, San Francisco
  • Sotheby’s Los Angeles, 8 June 1981, lot 306
  • Mr. and Mrs. Jack Chia Collection, Singapore
  • An Important Private Collection of Chinese Celadons and Other Ceramics: Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 November 1996, lot 611
  • Eskenazi, London
  • The Property of a Gentleman; Christie’s New York, 22 March 1999, lot 271

Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000
Hammer Price: US$700,000
Sold: US$882,000

Longquan kilns, located in the town of Longquan in Zhejiang province, first started operation in early Northern Song dynasty (960-1127 CE). Flourished during Southern Song to Yuan dynasties (1127-1368), Longquan wares not only served as tributes to the royal court, but also the pillar of overseas trade, where they were exported to Japan, Philippines, Malaysia and farther away to Europe. Since mid-Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the kiln began its decline.

An adorning technique, in which parts of the decoration were left unglazed to provide a contrast with the jade-like green glaze, came to prominence on high-quality wares made at the Longquan kilns in the Yuan dynasty. Due to very small amounts of iron oxide in the body material, when the wares were fired and oxygen was allowed back into the kiln, the surface of the unglazed areas turned a reddish brown – as on the current lot.

The figures amongst clouds in the central panels of this octagonal vase represent the Eight Daoist Immortals – which are relatively rare on Yuan dynasty ceramics. Across international museums, several similar examples could be found, with two in the British Museum being the closest. On these two octagonal Longquan celadon vases, one is decorated with the eight Daoist figures – as seen on the present lot, the other is carved with Daoist immortals and four floral patterns.   

One similar example in the British Museum, carved with Eight Daoist Immortals

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 794 | Huanghuali round-corner tapered cabinet
Created in 17th century
187.3 x 96 x 54.6 cm

  • Sotheby's New York, 10 October 1987, lot 491

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000
Hammer Price: US$680,000
Sold: US$856,800

Lot 918 | Famille rose figure of Amitayus
Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Height: 29.5 cm

  • The J. M. Hu (1911-1995), Zande Lou Collection

Estimate: US$150,000 - 250,000
Hammer Price: US$500,000
Sold: US$630,000

Lot 929 | Ge-type vase
Yongzheng six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the period (1723 - 1735)
Height: 33 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 November 2007, lot 1717, sold: HK$3,607,500

Estimate: US$400,000 - 600,000
Hammer Price: US$420,000
Sold: US$529,200

Lot 715 | Yellow jade figure of a recumbent mythical beast
Created during Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Length: 10.8 cm

  • The Gerald Godfrey Collection
  • The Gerald Godfrey Private Collection of Fine Chinese Jades; Christie's Hong Kong, 30 October 1995, lot 866
  • T. Eugene Worrell

Estimate: US$100,000 - 150,000
Hammer Price: US$350,000
Sold: US$441,000

Lot 841 | A parcel-gilt figure of Buddha
Created in Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Height: 58.4 cm

  • Sotheby’s New York, 7 April 1988, lot 303

Estimate: US$30,000 - 50,000
Hammer Price: US$320,000
Sold: US$403,200

Lot 722 | An imperially inscribed grey, russet and black jade rhyton, gong
Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795) or ealier

  • The Gerald Godfrey Collection
  • The Gerald Godfrey Private Collection of Fine Chinese Jades; Christie's Hong Kong, 30 October 1995, lot 905

Estimate: US$60,000 - 80,000
Hammer Price: US$270,000
Sold: US$340,200

Lot 748 | A large spinach-green jade figure of an elephant
Created during Qianlong period (1736-1795)
Length: 26.7 cm

  • Ralph M. Chait Galleries, New York
  • Sotheby's New York, 22-23 March 1999, lot 423

Estimate: US$60,000 - 80,000
Hammer Price: US$260,000
Sold: US$327,600

Lot 904 | A large carved Longquan celadon vase, meiping
Created during early Ming dynasty, 14th - 15th century
Height: 39.3 cm

  • Ehime Bunkakan, Japan, prior to 1955

Estimate: US$100,000 - 150,000
Hammer Price: US$230,000
Sold: US$289,800

Lot 704 | Greyish-green jade bird-form finial/insignia
Created during late shang-early Western Zhou Dynasty, 12th - 11th century BC
Length: 7.7 cm

  • Mathias Komor (1909-1984), New York, March 1949
  • Myron S. (1906-1992) and Pauline Baerwald Falk (1910-2000) Collection, New York, no. 501
  • The Falk Collection I; Christie's New York, 16 October 2001, lot 195

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000
Hammer Price: US$200,000
Sold: US$252,000

Lot 784 | Huanghuali square-corner kang cabinet
Created during 17th century
78.1 x 70.5 x 40 cm

  • M. D. Flacks Ltd., New York
  • The collection of Daniel Shapiro, New York

Estimate: US$40,000 - 60,000
Hammer Price: US$180,000
Sold: US$226,800

Lot 942 | A small white stoneware globular tripod jar
Created during Five dynasties - Liao dynasty (AD 907-1125)
Width: 5.7 cm

  • Christie’s New York, 2 December 1985, lot 178

Estimate: US$5,000 - 7,000
Hammer Price: US$160,000
Sold: US$201,600

Lot 852 | A pair of embrodered gold-ground rank badges of Qilin, buzi
Created during Kangxi period (1662-1722)
29.3 x 30.6 cm

  • Sotheby’s New York, 19 March 2014, lot 404

Estimate: US$30,000 - 50,000
Hammer Price: US$115,000
Sold: US$144,900

Lot 912 | A langyao bottle vase
Created during Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Height: 41.3 cm

  • The J. M. Hu (1911-1995), Zande Lou Collection

Estimate: US$8,000 - 12,000
Hammer Price: US$75,000
Sold: US$94,500

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
Date: 22 - 23 September 2022
Number of Lots: 343
Sold: 294
Unsold: 49
Sale Rate: 85.7%
Sale Total: US$20,657,670