Simplicity and Splendour: Chinese Furniture from 18th to 20th Century
Exhibition Period: From 24 June 2019 to 22 September 2019
Venue: Gallery IV, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Furniture of the Qing dynasty primarily falls into three major categories: Canton-style, Beijing-style, and Suzhou-style furniture, also known as Guangzhuo (Made in Guangzhou), Jingzuo (Made in Beijing), and Suzhuo (Made in Suzhou) in Chinese.

During the period from 1757 to 1860, Guangzhou was the only treaty port under Qing rule, and its commodity economy was extremely prosperous. From the mid-Qing dynasty onwards. Canton-style furniture gradually developed its own style. Since Guangzhou is close to the Southeast Asian wood-processing industries, Canton-style furniture is made from a plethora of materials, with stout and heavy bodies; it is regularly created from an entire piece of wood without joinery, stressing uniformity in wood texture, and with carvings over large areas. Additionally, under the influence of Western art, Canton furniture deploys such designs as slim waists, goat’s hooves and carvings at the feet, as well as patterns of passion flowers; these traits have exerted an overwhelming impact on the designs of traditional Chinese furniture. Canton furniture is chiefly made of rosewood.

Beijing-style furniture, also called Qing-style furniture, mainly refers to the furniture produced within the workshops of the Qing Palace. Beijing-style furniture is composed of fewer materials than Canton-style furniture, but of more materials than Suzhou-style furniture; its designs adopt those of the Canton style, while its lines model the Suzhou style. Its materials are fussy and its carvings elaborate, and are generally made of gold, silver, jade, ivory, and enamel mosaics. In addition to the dragons and phoenixes that indicate royal identities, Beijing furniture is also frequently adorned with heraldic designs commonly seen on ancient bronze and jade artefacts, including thunder patterns, Chi-dragon patterns, Kui-dragon patterns, demonic faces (taotie designs), and Kui-phoenix designs; all things that brazenly display the opulence, eminence, and royal taste. Beijing-style furniture is mostly made of saunderswood (zitan).

Suzhou-style furniture is manufactured in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, with Suzhou as the production centre. It is the archetypal furniture in the Ming dynasty. Its defining characteristics comprise light and minute designs, simple and elegant decorations, and meticulously selected materials. The decorative motifs are based primarily on famous paintings and the myths of previous dynasties, with typical figures of pine, bamboo, plum, rocks, birds over flowers, and scenes of nature. Suzhou furniture is customarily made of fragrant rosewood (huanghuali), saunderswood, cobra's saffron (tielimu), Siamese cassia (jichimu), and galled woods (yingmu), and other materials are sometimes used.

Beginning from June 24, 2019, The Art Museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong will organize an exhibition titled, “Simplicity and Splendour: Chinese Furniture from 18th to 20th Century”, showcasing over thirty artefacts, including but not limited to folding screens, tea tables, Chinese chaise longues, armchairs, writing desks, and cabinets, with Canton-style furniture as the focus. Also displayed alongside the furniture are the recently collected Qing-dynasty China trade paintings from Guangdong and genre paintings of old Beijing.