Part of a unique group of furniture, this chair was assembled in China and embellished in Japan with low- (hiramakie) and high-relief (takamakie) gold lacquer. During the early Qing period, between 1662 and 1683, trading bans imposed by the Kangxi emperor should have restricted collaboration between Chinese and Japanese craftsmen. As evidence to the contrary, however, this chair’s syncretic style and techniques highlight how traders, more often than not, managed to evade governmental diktats in favour of their own financial gain, thus fostering the exchange of information and goods beyond national borders.
This horseshoe-back armchair (quanyi) once belonged to the earliest collector of Asian art in Canada, Sir William Van Horne, who amassed more than three thousand Asian objects at the turn of the twentieth century. While he mostly collected Japanese pottery, several Chinese artworks adorned his Montreal residence.
The hiramakie and takamakie decoration could suggest a Japanese buyer; indeed, when the chair entered Van Horne’s collection, and later the museum’s, it was erroneously listed as Japanese. If it was originally purchased by a Japanese buyer, it was someone who certainly had the economic wherewithal to purchase an exotic object of great prestige.