Classical Chinese table fetches record-breaking US$18 million

Beijing Poly International Auction produced favourable results in their Classical Chinese Furniture Sale on 5 December.  

Among 24 lots offered, 22 were sold. The sale total was RMB 219.2 million (around US$34.4 million dollars).

A massive huanghuali (Chinese rosewood) plank-top pedestal table performed the most brilliantly. It was sold at RMB 115 million (around US$18 million dollars) with buyer’s premium, which became the first classical Chinese furniture piece to surpass the RMB 100 million mark at auction.  

Lot 5506 | Massive huanghuali plank-top tedestal table, Jiajian

Created in late Ming to early Qing dynasty (circa 16th-18th century)
Measurements: 453 x 56 x 93 cm | Thickness of the single-plank top: 7.8-8.8cm
Total weight: 289 kg | Table weight: 205 kg
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Grace Wu Bruce, 1996
  • Collection of Jonathan and Jessika Auerbach
  • Christie’s New York, 22 March 2013, Lot 1323 (Sold: US$9.08 million)

Estimate upon request

Hammer Price: RMB 100,000,000

Sold: RMB 115,000,000 (around US$18 million)

The auctioneer started the bidding at RMB 50 million. In the end, it was sold at RMB 115 million (around US$18 million dollars) with buyer’s premium. This broke the auction record for the most expensive classical Chinese furniture – the first time to exceed the RMB 100 million mark.

The previous auction record was a pair of huanghuali phoenix motif cabinets

The previous auction record was set by a pair of huanghuali phoenix motif cabinets – formerly part of famous Chinese film director, Richard Li Han-hsiang's Collection. In 2017, it was hammered for RMB 86 million, and was sold for RMB 98.9 million (around US$15.5 million dollars) at Beijing Poly International Auction.

In 2013, this table was auctioned at Christie's New York – estimated at US$1.5 to 2 million dollars. In the end, it was sold at US$9.08 million dollars which far exceeded expectations.

According to Christie’s catalogue information, the table’s sellers were American collectors, Jonathan and Jessika Auerbach. It also previously belonged to Grace Wu Bruce, a famous classical furniture dealer in Hong Kong.

The sheer size of the top plank, which measures 452.8 cm long and 7.8 to 8.8 cm thick (varying at the table's centre and two ends), makes it among the longest and thickest single huanghuali plank-top tables ever recorded. This massive size suggests that the table would have been immensely costly, even at the time of manufacture, and a highly prized possession of a wealthy scholar or official.

Different components in the table's structure

A video of the table's components

The table's wooden texture

Relatively few existing examples of tables of this present size are known. Its large size suggests that it would have likely held a place of great importance at the centre of an altar, or against the wall of a grand hall. They could be set with ancestral tablets, Buddhist or Daoist images, and with a variety of ritual utensils including censers, flower vases, candle holders and offering plates.

In general, surviving examples of plank-top pedestal tables are rare as well. This is because of their easily dissembled members can become separated over the years. But it is known that the top panel and lower sections of the present table are original to each other, as their width and general proportions correspond well.

The method of demountable construction is most often seen on these early examples with thick and heavy plank tops, as it made the transportation of such tables much easier. The proportions of the present table, and generous use of such a massive single plank of huanghuali, suggest an early date, as over time they generally became smaller due to the shortage of huanghuali wood.

Lot 5510 | A pair of huanghuali qilin and phoenix motif official's hat yokeback armchairs, Guanmaoyi

Created in late Ming to early Qing dynasty (circa 16th-18th century)
Measurements: 49.5 x 65.4 x 107.6 cm

  • Dr. S. Y. Yip Collection
  • Christie’s New York, 16 October 2001, Lot 277
  • Ten-faced Lingbi Mountain House Collection in North America, Lot EK87
  • Beijing Poly International Auction, Spring 2019, Lot 5435 (Sold: RMB 11.7 million, set an auction record for official's hat armchairs)

Estimate: RMB 18,000,000 – 28,000,000

Hammer Price: RMB 20,500,000

Sold: RMB 23,575,000 (around US$3.6 million)

These huanghuali chairs have simple and harmonious lines, as well as a modern feel. They are adorned with traditional Chinese mythical creatures – a qilin and phoenix. 

Known as an official's hat armchair, it is similar to the top hat of the official clothes during the Ming dynasty. In Chinese culture, it has been regarded as a symbol of elite status and power.

Each chair has four protruding heads – two found in the backrest chair and a pair at the front with the left and right armrests. 

The front and back armchair legs of the official's hat armchair consist of four straight lines, which are made up of four wooden pillars with tenon through the seat board, which is simple and stable. During the 15th to 19th century, the lines of Chinese furniture tended to be sleek, with no traces of tenon and tenon joints, which are reflected in the official's hat armchair.

These types of chairs are mostly arranged in pairs, which reflects to the principle of symmetry in Chinese interior design. In the Ming and Qing prints, the official's hat armchairs were mostly placed on the side of the dining table – in front of the desk in the study room, or in the reception room for guests to use.

Lot 5516 | Huanghuali four-poster frame bed, Jiazi chuang

Created in late Ming to early Qing dynasty (circa 16-18th century)
Measurements: 210 x 146 x 213 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Grace Wu Bruce
  • John and Celeste Fleming
  • Bonhams New York, 12 September 2016, Lot 6020 (Sold US$1.3 million)

Estimate: RMB 8,000,000 – 12,000,000

Hammer Price: RMB 12,500,000

Sold: RMB 14,375,000 (around US$2.2 million)

It has been suggested that the four-poster bed was more likely to have been found in the men's apartments, with its simple and elegant adornment. A six-poster wedding bed, often a dowry brought in with the bride, was more likely to be found in the women's quarters.

During the day, this present bed can be used for leisure. A table and a footstool are placed in front of the bed for reading and eating, while chairs and stools are set around the bed – suitable for gatherings in the bedroom.

At night, the bed frame has a hanging net to block winds and mosquitoes, as well as protect privacy. The selection of bed nets is sophisticated, while the colours and patterns are set against engraved patterns of the surroundings.

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Beijing Poly International Auction

Sale: Xiaoyaozuo | Huanghuali single-plank top and several giant offerings | Important Ming and Qing Classical Furniture

Date: 5 December 2021

Sold: 24

Unsold: 22

Sale Rate: 91.6%

Sale Total: RMB 219,282,000 (around US$34.4 million)