CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
New YorkMarch 20, 2008

Imperial Wardrobe at Christie’s

Share this post:

Pin it on Pinterest Share it on Google Plus

It's Asia Week in New York. I have been to numerous cocktail parties, openings and art galleries in the city.

Yesterday, Christie's held the first ever auction in the US devoted to Chinese textiles. I have never seen so many Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indian elegantly dressed men and women walking around such select art pieces.

They were busy being followed by Japanese TV crews and photographers. Jewish people were also present in great quantities, those were busier selling. Americans were present too -- it's their country after all. They limited themselves to watching the crowd, happy-houring with a glass of wine in their hands.

The superb single owner sale of Chinese textiles is from the collection of Linda Wrigglesworth, a renowned dealer and collector. Her dedication and passion contributed immensely to developing the Chinese textiles field into the buoyant collecting category it is today, especially in the area of Qing dynasty material (1644-1911). The sale consists of approximately 150 lots with an expected value of US$3.3 - 4.6 million. Several of the treasures included in the sale have been published in Ms. Wrigglesworth's seminal publication, Imperial Wardrobe.

One of the sale's main features is that it will demonstrate the opulence and diversity of Qing costume and accessories in an unprecedented way. The section devoted to Imperial Court wear is led by an extremely rare Imperial yellow twelve-symbol kesi dragon robe for an Empreror, jifu, Xianfeng period (1821-1850) (estimate: US$300,000-500,000). Entirely woven in fine silk in the kesi, or "split weave" technique - the most challenging and intricate of all weaving procedures - this robe displays nine gold dragons and the twelve symbols of Imperial authority on an Imperial yellow ground. It's absolutely magnificent.

The twelve ancient symbols of authority represented the emperor's sacrificial duties, his powers of judgement and punishment and the elements of Chinese cosmology. The robe's classic design shows nine symmetrically placed five-clawed Imperial dragons writhing amidst clouds and longevity symbols above water and wave motifs. Only emperors, empresses, and Imperial consorts of the highest degree were permitted to wear Imperial yellow and as this robe depicts the twelve symbols which could only be worn by members of the Imperial family, it was clearly made for an emperor.

Complimenting this rare example is a stunning woman's silk gauze summer surcoat, long gua (estimate: US$200,000-250,000), probably worn by a first rank Imperial consort. Manchu women wore these robes for formal occasions in the presence of the emperor and this appears to be the only outer garment dating from the 18th century to have ever been offered at auction. The surcoat is sumptuously embroidered with eight dragon roundels and follows quite closely the designs specified by the Imperial court in the Huangchao Liqi Tushi regulations. The original tailoring shows the classic 18th century form, and the gold dragon roundels are a striking contrast to the plain dark blue silk ground.

Equally rare is an exceptionally finely woven kesi silk tapestry, Imperial noblewoman's sleeveless front-opening formal court vest, chaogua, Daoguang period (1821-1850) (estimate: US$120,000-150,000). This design of court vest, with seven dragons, does not strictly conform to those specified in court dress laws, however, it is very close to those restricted to use by Imperial princesses of the highest two ranks.

Examples of Court vests of this type rarely survive. Also included is a beautiful example of an 18th century Imperial dragon robe of pale chocolate brown silk gauze embroidered in a counted stitch technique with colored silk floss and gold-wrapped threads (estimate: US$100,000-150,000). The chestnut, or chocolate color, indicates that the wearer was a member of the Imperial clan. Chestnut was considered one of the five shades of Imperial yellow as seen in the 1759 Imperial regulations. A rare 19th century kesi dragon robe woven with three tones of gold and silver threads with elegant accents of green and coral (estimate: US$70,000-90,000) and a rare ceremonial musician's robe worked in bold colors of magenta and blue (estimate: US$150,000-180,000) are also in this group -- both robes are published in Imperial Wardrobe, pgs. 144 and 147-48.

A section on informal Court wear is be highlighted by a delicate fur-lined kesi winter surcoat for an Imperial noblewoman (estimate: US$250,000-350,000). Woven with an elegant design of floral roundels and butterflies above a hem of wind-tossed waves from which emerge peach sprays symbolizing immortality, this robe is a masterpiece of 18th century woven silk technique, and is in pristine condition. Other examples include a 19th century Manchu noblewoman's summer semi-formal robe of a light aubergine color embroidered with eight symmetrically placed floral roundels of lotus (estimate: US$100,000-150,000), and a beautiful cornflower-blue silk Manchu woman's full-length vest, worked with auspicious motifs of gold double gourds symbolizing fertility (estimate: US$15,000-18,000).

My blue Armani suit is really nice... it has even a " Peking Knot" collar button, but I am missing something bright I am not saying a fur surcoat but maybe some peacock filaments ...It's spring time and exotism is the trend. Let me see.....That handsome Japanese man seems to have dropped his catalogue, he's smiling ...Let's help him out!

Joelle's Tips:

Source: Christie's The Imperial Wardrobe: Fine Chinese Costumes and Textiles New York - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The results of today's sale: Antiques, Collectibles and Auction News

Subscribe to the Joelle Magazine Newsletter
About the newsletter