On The Block: The Extraordinary Collection of Reverend Richard Fabian At Sotheby’s


The Reverend Richard Fabian is one of San Francisco’s extraordinary characters– if he did not already exist, Armistead Maupin would have invented him. The flamboyant Episcopalian priest founded St. Gregory of Nyssa in Potrero Hill in 1978, overseeing decades of radical, ground-breaking liturgy. Twenty years later the parish would welcome worshippers to its AIA award-winning church on De Haro Street, a sublimely exuberant landmark of wood with influences ranging from Byzantine to Arts & Crafts. But there are many sides to Reverend Fabian, and one of them is coming up for auction at Sotheby’s.

When he was a chaplain at Yale in the mid-70s, the privately-wealthy Fabian began collecting Chinese art and objects, ranging from ancient to contemporary. Central to this now decades-old assemblage is his dazzling collection of classical Chinese furniture, a group of objects expected to attract global interest (and possibly record-shattering prices) tomorrow at Sotheby’s.

Most of the objects in the collection are made of huanghuali, a warm, glowing variety of rosewood. A small group are made of zitan, a rare and prized Chinese hardwood. But it’s not just about the materials. The Fabian sale includes four historic Ming Dynasty yokeback chairs, masterpieces of workmanship of which only eleven are known. Two of the 16th/17th Century chairs (at top, Lot 31) are expected fetch between $500,000–$700,000 for the pair. Another exceptional lot is the pair of deep-hued huanghuali cabinets known as Gui (Lot 21, below) made during the Qing Dynasty and expected to bring between $300,000–$500,000.

Elegantly simple, this 12-inch high, 17th/18th Century Kangzhou table’s absence of carved detail highlights the luminous grain of the wood. Lot 6 is estimated to realize $30,000-$50,000.

In addition to the huanghuali furniture and tabletop items like brush pots and mirror stands, there are a few small pieces in zitan, a rare, slow-growing rosewood prized for its deep black hue, including this endearingly elegant 9-inch cube of a bird cage. Fitted with porcelain feeders and made in the 20th Century, Lot 62 is expected to bring between $3,000-$5,000.

Below, a detail of one of the sale’s masterpieces, Lot 19, a horseshoe-back chair in huanghuali carved to look like humble bamboo, estimated to sell for $120,000-$150,000.

More: In addition to exploring the excellent online catalogue, have a look at this slideshow on the exceptional qualities of huanghuali.

The Reverend Richard Fabian Collection of Chinese Classical Furniture
March 16, 2016 at 10:00 EST
Sotheby’s New York

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