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Qianlong Garden Conservation Project

Beijing, China
A Closer Look

Qianlong Garden Conservation Project

Qianlong Garden Conservation Project

Occupying almost two acres in the northeast quadrant of the Forbidden City, the Qianlong Garden was built by the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) to serve as part of his planned retirement complex for use following his 60 year reign. He designed the garden as a private retreat, with four courtyards, elaborate rockeries, and 27 pavilions and structures. The buildings contain decoration and furnishings from a time widely considered to be one of the boldest and most extravagant periods of interior design in China's history, and representing some of the most significant, exquisitely designed interiors to survive relatively unchanged from Imperial China.

During the Qianlong Emperor's reign (1735-1796), China was the world's largest and richest civilization, and was extensively engaged with other countries. While the impact of Chinese art and architecture on European art of this period is well known, the interiors of the Qianlong Garden demonstrate that this impact was reciprocal, revealing influences such as that of Giuseppe Castiglione, a Jesuit missionary and painter who settled in China around 1715. The interiors also contain large trompe l'oeil silk murals that incorporate Western artistic techniques of perspective and chiaroscuro, and are among the very few surviving examples of their genre in all of China. Following the departure of the last emperor Puyi, the Qianlong Garden was largely dormant since 1924.

Emperor's Secret Garden and Hidden Treasure of the World

Restoration work began on the first building, Juanqinzhai (Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service) in 2002, and in 2004 the Palace Museum and WMF extended their agreement to undertake a comprehensive review of the entire Qianlong Garden site and develop a master plan for its conservation.

The first large-scale garden project, completed in 2008, was the conservation of Juanqinzhai (Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service). The exteriors and major interiors of three structures in the fourth courtyard, including Fuwangge (Belvedere of Viewing Achievements), Zhuxiangguan (Lodge of Bamboo Fragrance), and Yucuixuan (Bower of Purest Jade), were conserved and completed in 2016. Restoration of the interior and exterior of buildings in the first, second, and third courtyards is currently underway.

A New Interpretation Center

A new partnership was announced in January 2019 with celebrated architect Annabelle Selldorf, who will design in collaboration with the Palace Museum, an Interpretation Center at Qianlong Garden, making her the first American architect to work in the Forbbiden City. The interpretation center will be located in an existing, restored structure within the second courtyard of the garden. Selldorf and her NYC-based firm, Selldorf Architects, have designed the center in three distinct halls surrounding an open pavilion, each of which will provide visitors with a unique perspective on the past and present of the remarkable complex. For the first time ever, the public will have access to the garden through the new Visitor’s Center, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

Last updated: March 2021. 

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