The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City

The contents of an emperor’s private retreat deep within the Forbidden City are revealed at the Milwaukee Art Museum. An eighteenth-century compound in a hidden quadrant of the immense imperial complex, the Qianlong Garden is the focus of a decade-long, multimillion-dollar conservation initiative undertaken by the World Monuments Fund in partnership with the Palace Museum, Beijing.

In 2002, WMF and the Palace Museum began to restore the Qianlong Garden buildings and train Chinese conservators to tackle the complex challenges presented when working with the fragile historic interiors and their mix of unusual materials and artistic techniques. The interiors of many of the buildings in the Qianlong Garden are of extravagant design, using the finest materials and demonstrating exceptional Chinese craftsmanship, and incorporating European artistic techniques such as trompe l’oeil. They number among the finest extant examples of imperial interiors in China and are prized because their original design and materials have survived relatively unaltered from the time they were constructed over 230 years ago. The exhibit features 90 objects of ceremony and leisure—murals, paintings, wall coverings, furniture, architectural elements, jades, and cloisonné—which inhabited the private realm of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1796), one of the eighteenth century's most influential figures.