Imperial Chinese 'elephant' hat stand for sale at Bonhams offers more than a place to hang your hat

Fine Chinese Art
7 Nov 2013
London, New Bond Street

An exceptional and very rare Imperial gilt-bronze 'elephant' hat stand estimated to sell for £80,000 to £120,000 in Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale on November 7, was made by the Imperial workshops in Guangzhou as tribute to the Qing Court.

The 49cm (19 inch) tall gilt-bronze hat stand embellished with semi-precious stones can be counted amongst the finest works of art made in the Imperial workshops for the Imperial Court during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Hat stands were made for the Imperial Court in various materials from porcelain, to cloisonné enamel, jade, painted enamel on copper, bamboo and other mediums. This stand is extremely rare with no other similar example known.

In its superb craftsmanship and decorative style it is reminiscent of the impressive clocks made in Europe for the Imperial Court and those of similar style produced in the Imperial workshops in Guangzhou as tribute for the Qing Court.

The elephant is symbolic of strength and wisdom and when combined with a vase as in the present piece (supported by a kneeling European figure) represents the wish for peaceful times. The elephant is a popular symbol in Chinese art and depicted in various mediums.

The gilt-bronze human figure kneeling on the back of the elephant supporting a vase, can be identified as European by its buttoned long coat with lace adorned sleeves, scarf and the neatly tied queue at the back of the neck.

One of the more remarkable and rare features on this hat stand are the five semi-precious stone inlaid gilt bronze ruyi sceptres forming the supports for the hat and the engraved box and cover. The ruyi further reinforce the wish for peace, strength and wisdom and are decorated with bats suspending peach, the Endless Knot and other auspicious symbols. These represent the wish for good fortune, happiness and longevity.

There is no doubt that the hat stand was inspired in its subject matter, design and quality by the finest European clocks made for the Chinese market in the 18th century. Its particular purpose and the clever use of the ruyi shape to form supports for the hat, clearly point to the ingenious adaptation by the Imperial workshops in Guangzhou and is a testament to their superb craftsmanship and innovation.

Asaph Hyman, Director of Chinese Art, notes: This magnificent work of art embodies the fascination of the Chinese Imperial Court with European opulence of the 18th century adapted to its own aesthetic taste during the important reign of the Qianlong Emperor.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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