We recently discovered this carved Dutch colonial ebony chair in a private collection. It is believed to be Ceylonese, circa 1680 and is an exceptionally rare and fine example.
The ebony chair back with twisted columns supporting a deeply carved top-rail. Finished on both sides to an exceptional standard with strictly foliate and floral details. On all surfaces, the Ceylonese ebony armchair is similarly carved with deep ornament in high relief.
The ebony arms and seat supported on ebony barley twist columns and the apron finished on all sides mimicking the top rail with same detailed intricacy. The ebony chair raised on integral bun feet. The caned seat of later date.
Dutch Colonial Armchairs
The design of Dutch colonial Ceylonese Ebony chairs were based on 17th-century European types. Their design was little affected by stylistic changes in Europe.
This model of colonial Ebony Armchair was typically low and of broad proportions and can be distinguished according to use and ornamentation.
Ebony wood was suitable for highly carved types of furniture such as were made in Ceylon and Batavia. As documented by Dr. Amin Jaffer, in his excellent book “Furniture from British India and Ceylon”, which clearly categorizes carved ebony chairs into 5 distinct classes. Each class is clearly described and illustrated, although he was not able to show a chair of our form, from before the 19th century. Such colonial ebony chairs do exist in museums, but those from the 17th century, in particular, Ceylonese Ebony Armchairs, such as this, are exceedingly rare.
Country of Origin – Ceylon
From 1640 to 1796 Ceylon was under the control of the Dutch and it was from here that this ebony chair was produced, probably commissioned by the Dutch for their own houses and for taking with them to the outposts which they controlled.
Ceylonese Ebony chairs were low and of broad proportions; were made from solid ebony and were highly decoratively carved with drop in cane seats. This example measures 60 cm wide x 77cm high x 56 cm deep. Seat height 40 cm. – classic proportions. As for the period in which this type of chair was made, it appears to be in a narrow chronological window that extends from the 17th century to the mid 18th century. There are no known examples of this chair after the mid 18th century.
Dr. Jaffer says that few examples of this model exist in Britain ( p. 134). He does, however, go on to say, “Ebony furniture of this type is not unknown in Britain. However, at present (2001) there are no known examples which pre-date the early nineteenth century. Demand was then sufficiently high that it could have been imported from Holland or Ceylon (under British control after 1796). This would indicate that this chair could be the only intact example of a true 1680 Dutch/Ceylonese/Batavian carved ebony chair currently in Britain, making it very old and very rare.