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

June 11–September 11, 2011
Baker/Rowland Galleries

Feature image for The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City exhibition In summer 2011, The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City ushers in the Summer of China, so named because the Museum will feature five exhibitions on Chinese art, offering a rare opportunity to view objects spanning three thousand years of China’s history. The Museum is one of only three museums in the world to present The Emperor’s Private Paradise. This once-in-a-lifetime exhibition features over ninety objects from the Qianlong Garden in Beijing, never before seen by the public. Murals, paintings, furniture, architectural elements, jades, and cloisonné reveal the life and vision of one of history’s most influential rulers, from a place largely cloaked in mystery, and will likely never leave China again.

The Qianlong Garden was largely abandoned after the last emperor, PuYi, left the Forbidden City in 1924, and the items in it remained unaltered since the end of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign in 1795. In 2001, the Palace Museum in Beijing and the World Monuments Fund (WMF) in New York began the restoration of the Qianlong Garden’s twenty-seven buildings, pavilions, and outdoor elements, including ancient trees and rockeries. The objects touring in the exhibition provide a glimpse into this secret realm.

A two-acre jewel in the immense 180-acre Forbidden City complex, the Qianlong (pronounced chee’en lohng) Garden is praised for its unique combination of Northern and Southern Chinese garden design elements and interiors. Built in the eighteenth century, the garden complex was part of the Qianlong Emperor’s ambitious twelve-acre retreat, commissioned in anticipation of his retirement. Buddhist shrines, open-air gazebos, sitting rooms, libraries, theaters, and gardens were interspersed with bamboo groves and other natural arrangements. Here, the Qianlong Emperor would retreat from affairs of state and meditate in closeted niches, write poetry, study the classics, and delight in his collection and artistic creations.

After its stop in Milwaukee, The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City returns to China, where it will be part of a permanent display in Beijing.

The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City was organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in partnership with the Palace Museum and in cooperation with the World Monuments Fund and has been made possible through generous support from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and American Express. Additional support was provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and by ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations), a program of the U.S. Department of Education.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s “Summer of China” is sponsored by Rockwell Automation, The Lai Family Foundation, Harley-Davidson Motor Company and The Harley-Davidson Foundation, Concordia University Wisconsin, Bucyrus, and Johnson Controls, with additional support from the Freeman Foundation, the Einhorn Family Foundation, and Baird. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Panel with niches (hanging). From Cuishanglou. Zitan, painted and gilt clay, colors on silk. 65.5 x 36.5 x 1.5 inches (166 x 93 x 3.7 cm). ©Palace Museum