An ornate and unusual Anglo Chinese padouk campaign chest of drawers featuring the Eight Immortals, dated 1869 of rectangular form, in two sections, each with recessed carrying handles, the top section with two short and one long drawer carved in relief with landscapes of bridges, houses and pagodas, the lower section with two long drawers, one showing the Immortals in the mountains and one with them in a long boat with an elephant-head prow, all raised upon knopped legs. Chinese, 1869.
Footnote: The Eight Immortals are a group of legendary Xian ("immortals") in Chinese mythology. Each immortal's power can be transferred to a vessel that can bestow life or destroy evil.
Tie guaili with gourd, can make medicine and cure the sick.
Zhong hanli with fan, can resurrect the.
Zhang guolao with tabour, can foresee the future.
Lv Dongbin with sword, can fight with evil.
He xiangu with lotus, can help people become immortal.
Lan caihe with basket, can singing to make people happy.
Han xiangzi with clarinet, can play music.
Cao guojiu with Jade plate can decide on the balance of the genders in the world.
The legend depicted on this chest shows the task they performed to collect some special medicine from higher ranked Immortals across the ocean. On the way they encounter terrible storms and disturb the Dragon King who sends his armies in the form of lobsters, crab and fish to deter the Immortals. In the ensuing war two of the Dragon princes are killed and finally Avalokitesvara (Guan-yin) has to intervene to restore peace.
For centuries travelling armies have used campaign furniture that could easily be assembled and quickly folded and packed down for ease of transportation, however in the 1800’s British furniture manufacturers such as Sheraton, Hepplewhite, and Chippendale redesigned much of their line and engineered new pieces specifically for the British Army in response rise and expansion of the British Empire, during the Georgian and Victoria periods (1714 – 1901) and the demand by British officers in high social positions for high quality portable furniture.
Not only did the furniture need to be highly portable, lightweight, and exceptionally durable but it also needed to be comfortable and beautiful to ensure the British officers the luxuries of home whilst travelling to distant lands. The blending of timeless functionality and elegance led to an unmatched style of furniture that was impervious to weather, virtually indestructible, and visually stunning.
My favourite item of campaign furniture is the chest of drawers, often referred to as a military chest or campaign chest. Campaign chests' primary wood was often mahogany, teak, or camphor, although cedar, pine and other woods were also used. The dominant style of campaign chest breaks down into two sections and has removable feet. The brass corners and strapwork offer some protection and typify the distinctive "campaign look".
With its simple and masculine elegance, campaign furniture looks as modern and timeless within homes today as it did back in the 19th century.
If you would like to learn more, I suggest reading Nicolas A. Brawer's book, British Campaign Furniture: Elegance under Canvas 1740-1914. Published in 2001 with over 275 illustrations, including 140 plates in full colour, it is the most comprehensive compilation of historical information on the subject.
Rare 19th Century Carved Wood Padouk Chinese Campaign Chest