Chinese antiques are very much in the public eye at the moment. However, the emphasis is more on porcelain than furniture such as antique desks and Victorian dining chairs ; Preston collectors can find exquisitely-crafted Imperial-era pieces in showrooms, at a reasonable cost, but why?
October 18th 2010 marked the 150th anniversary of the destruction of Beijing’s Old Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces. It was just one event in an era which began with the Opium Wars of the 1840s, continued into the 1890s, and saw countless Imperial palaces and their treasures wantonly looted or destroyed. Many artworks, such as the beautiful vase which was recently sold for £53.1 million, made it out of the country, but pieces too large to transport, such as antique desks, were more often than not burned. Preston antiques collectors will no doubt remember the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, when Chairman Mao destroyed what little there was left.
The result is that genuine Imperial furniture, such as early Victorian dining chairs, are more likely to be found in Lancashire than Lánzhōu, and even then will be rare. But while Chinese collectors avidly lap up artworks, they tend to regard antique furniture with suspicion. Unlike porcelain, furniture craftsmen never left makers’ marks. This, together with the fact Chinese antiques remained unaltered in style for over 500 years, makes them hard to authenticate. The consensus is that most “Imperial” antique desks and chairs in Cumbria are probably Edwardian, made for export.
Dealers are beginning to question this, and are looking at the patina of their Chinese furniture with new eyes. If you see a fine set of pear-wood Imperial Victorian dining chairs in a Cumbria antiques dealer, they could turn out to be quite an investment.
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