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‘Red & Gold’ Dresser Mirror made for the Southeast Asian Peranakan Chinese Market

Straits Settlements or Sumatra, Indonesia
late 19th century

height: 54 cm, width: 39cm, depth: 23.5cm

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Provenance

UK art market

This bevelled mirror, on a base with a drawer, is festooned with elaborate gilded carvings of foliage and flowers inlaid with mother-of-pearl chips. A panel beneath the mirror shows two humming birds amid boughs of prunus or plum blossom. The sides of the base and mirror also are similarly carved and gilded. A pair of qilin-type figures top the support columns. The ensemble most probably is made of Namwood.

The top of the mirror leans forward, almost like a hood. Such styling is typical of colonial Javanese cabinets and mirrors and might have been inspired by such pieces.

Red and gold furniture was commissioned from artisans in southern China, the Straits settlements and the East Indies by wealthy Peranakan Chinese merchants in the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang, and Java and Sumatra in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Peranakan Chinese of Southeast Asia formed a distinct community from other local Chinese. Their families had been in Southeast Asia for at least several generations and often they were the product of intermarriage between local Chinese and the indigenous population. Their customs were a curious blend of English, indigenous and Chinese customs. Weddings were very important. For these, furniture for the bridal chamber such as this dresser mirror was commissioned.

This dresser mirror was acquired in the UK. Most probably it has been in the UK since the colonial era. It is in marvellous condition: there are no losses and no repairs. It also has an excellent patina consistent with a nineteenth century dating.

See Khoo (1996, p. 156) for a related mirror.

References

Khoo J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, Pepin Press, 1996.

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