A connection between ancient scholars and modern life – Piper Tseng on her Classic Chinese Furniture Collection


“My passion for classic Chinese furniture was born from the environment I grew up in, as I was always surrounded by classic furniture, Chinese calligraphy and paintings at home,” said Piper Tseng. “In 1994, when I was looking to furnish my new home, I naturally turned to the antiques market.” After doing some initial research, she learned that the highest quality huanghuali the furniture exceeded its initial budget. If she was going to invest in Ming huanghuali furniture, she recognized the importance of thoroughly researching the subject, which is when she decided to embark on her journey as a collector almost three decades ago.

Piper noted, “As a history graduate, I knew ancient artifacts rarely survived to be admired or even used in modern times. Yet Chinese furniture was an exception as it remains the most concrete legacy left by Chinese scholars and therefore carries a deep piece of their rich history. I appreciated the taste, style, and aesthetics of Ming Dynasty scholars, and consider classical Chinese furniture as a link between their ancient world and today’s.

Why Piper Focuses on the Ming Dynasty huanghuali furniture? The collector explains: “I am fascinated by the structures and shapes of furniture. Classical furniture, porcelain and paintings from the late Ming period embody the sense of purity, refinement and elegance, the ideal aesthetic of the time; while the Qing dynasty aesthetic was more ornate in its design. I like the clean and archaic style of the Ming period which highlights the patterns in the grain of the wood and the honey-colored patina without any other frills. Pure and elegant in form, classic huanghuali furnishings display a shimmering sheen and beautiful clean lines.

From the very beginning of her collecting journey, Piper’s goal has been to live with her collection. “Each piece in my collection was carefully chosen not only for its functionality but I also wanted to acquire rare pieces that I could discuss with my guests, many of whom shared my interest in the subject.”

The Tseng collection has been exhibited worldwide over the past 20 years, at the National Museum of History in Taipei, the Crow Museum of Asian Art in Dallas, Texas, and the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA) with wide acclaim. It was when LACMA closed for major renovations in 2019 and all lenders were asked to remove their collections from the premises that Piper decided to entrust the collection to Christie’s. “The time has come to part with some pieces. I also want to share my passion with other collectors. I felt the joy of sharing the collection by organizing the various exhibitions and contributing to the catalogues. Collecting was for me a journey of self-discovery, the purpose of being a collector.

Piper admires every piece in her collection, but she’s particularly fond of a wonderful find from 24 years ago. “When I started collecting, I was drawn to the minimalist appeal of classic daybeds (Your) with cabriole legs, and saw an exemplary piece in Peter Lai’s gallery although, unfortunately, it had already been sold. In 1998, while I was in New York for an auction, Nick Grindley took me to a warehouse in Queens. As soon as he opened the door, in the dark, I saw the daybed that had impressed me with its grace and imposing beauty in Peter’s shop. I was overwhelmed with excitement and decided to purchase the bed on the spot. I still remember the thrill of seeing this beautiful bed again years later, only this time to be able to add it to my collection.

Christie’s flagship sale, Important Chinese Furniture. Formerly the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture Collection sale in September 1996 was an unforgettable event for Piper. With Grace Wu Bruce as an advisor, the collector worked out a detailed strategy before attending the sale. However, the intense bidding in the auction house and the record prices were unexpected, and she unfortunately only won four lots from the auction, leaving behind many much admired pieces. Years later, she was surprised to learn that she was the second-best buyer at the sale behind collector Bruce Dayton.

“Collectors are greedy and want to acquire all the beautiful pieces. I only knew how lucky I was to be able to participate in this very special sale years later. Two of the lots Piper acquired at the sale are a beautifully carved huanghuali towel rack and sink, Mianpenjia with stylistic and exquisite patterns, and a gorgeous huanghuali circular incense holder, Xiangji which embody the classical aesthetic favored by Chinese scholars. Both will appear in the next Rich Golden Hues and Graceful Forms – Classic Chinese Furniture from the Tseng Collection sale.

During her collector’s journey, Piper has built strong relationships with many well-known antique dealers, including Peter Lai, Nick Grindley, Charles Wong and Grace Wu Bruce. She met Curtis Evarts when she visited the Museum of Classical Furniture in Renaissance, California in 1996. Curtis then acted as her advisor in building up her collection.

“My advice for new collectors is that you should keep listening, exploring and learning in order to develop a collecting system. It takes time to cultivate a discerning eye. In addition to furniture, you should also study all kinds of works of art, such as archaic jades, porcelain and calligraphy and Chinese paintings, to see their interaction.You should learn with humility while exercising your independent judgement, then establish a good relationship with antique dealers and seek their advice. It is important to listen to professional opinions with an open mind and mutual respect and trust to ensure a smooth fundraising journey. As a final note, Piper added: “Of course you have to be quick when you find a good piece or you’ll miss it forever with regret.”

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The Rich Golden Hues and Graceful Forms – Classical Chinese Furniture From The Tseng Collection sale will be held in Hong Kong on November 29, 2022.


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