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Imperial Chinese ‘elephant’ hat stand for auction at Bonhams

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 scepters 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.