Chinese clothing rack

Chinese clothing rack or yijia, $830,000 (£655,000) at Stair Galleries.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Competition between a phone and a room bidder sent this ‘Chinese carved hardwood clothing stand’ from its token estimate of $500-700 to $830,000 (£655,000) at the upstate New York saleroom on June 22. With 28% buyer’s premium added the price was close to $1.1m.

Clothing racks or yijia were used in both men’s and women’s sleeping quarters for the temporary placement of garments overnight or for the display of particularly splendid or fashionable pieces of clothing such as the kesi court robes.

Marriage dowry

As they were a traditional part of a marriage dowry, the most decorative examples were carved with auspicious symbols promoting marital bliss and longevity. In this case the openwork panels are carved with repeated ruyi ‘good fortune’ symbols and to the terminals with phoenix. The latter could be key to its appeal. Just as the dragon became the symbol of the emperor, in the imperial household the use of the phoenix was synonymous with the empress.

While they must have been a common piece of furniture, only a few yijia in the revered hardwood huanghuali have survived. One from the Qianlong period is pictured in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (2002).

Two others also dated to the mid-Qing period have been offered at auction relatively recently – one at Christie’s Hong Kong in May 2021, another at Bonhams in London last November – although at around £50,000 each both sold well short of the example offered by Stair.