Huanghuali furniture has long been highly prized but there is now considerable evidence accumulating which indicates the market is revving up dramatically. During the Asian Art in London week, Christies sold a magnificent pair of huanghuali cabinets for £380,000 ($600,000), but even this price is totally eclipsed by the US$1,563,750 sale of two very large cabinets in New York on September 20 this year. At the same Christies sale in NYC a pair of 16th or 17th century horseshoe backed chairs achieved $75,000, with many more five-figure sales. That having been said, the highest price ever achieved was over $6m. for a Ming dynasty four poster bed at a Guardian auction in Beijing in 2010].
What is changing now in the market is the fact that not just the older pieces of huanghuali furniture are fetching high prices: 19th and 20th century pieces, once abjured by serious collectors, are on the move also. Naturally, the later pieces are usually more affordable, but if they are well made and boast beautiful grain and a rich amber tone they will be sought after.
In next week’s Fine Asian Works of Art sale (December 11) Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull feature some 15 pieces of huanghuali furniture ranging from the attractive curio stand (our Object of Desire this week) to chairs and tables. But we particularly like Lot 25, essentially a miniature version of previous cabinets sold for big money. It is marked out by its attractive grain and deserves to do considerably better than its £4,000-6,000 estimate.
Virtually all of the huanghuali being sold in the UK is destined to return to China, where it will be exposed for sale at even higher prices, if not absorbed instantly into private collections.
Note: the Chinese term huanghuali means ‘yellow flowering pear’ wood and is a member of the rosewood family classified as Dalbergia odorifea. The term huanghuali is relatively recent in use. Up until the early 20th century it was known as huali or hualu. The huang prefix (yellowish-brown) was added to describe old huali wood. It can be confused with hongmu visually, but its sweet fragrance marks it apart. The colour can range from reddish-brown to golden-yellow but amongst the most sought after finishes are those featuring ghost-like facial whorls. Supply of the wood is now extremely limited and it sells at around $1.6m. a ton.