ChinSight

Drottningholm Palace’s Chinese Pavilion has Chinese Translations

Drottningholm Palace (originally built in late 16th century) has been the private residence of the Swedish Royal family from that time and stands on an island in Lake Malaren, now a Stockholm suburb. In early June, we set out by boat to explore this residence inspired by the Palace of Versailles and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and learn about its history.

The Palace itself is grand, of course, and the expansive gardens flanked by thick avenues of trees in baroque and English styles with magnificent vistas, statues and secluded corners. On the day we visited, it was awash with Chinese visitors too.

From the 18th century China was a faraway country, largely closed off to Europeans except for a few treaty ports, therefore this forbidden land became a huge obsession for Europeans.  Every noble longed for Chinese porcelain and furniture and would have a room decorated entirely in Chinese style. Royals expressed their fascination largely in the architecture and interior styles of their palaces – all to get a taste of this mythical land and be fashionable.  Most often imported furniture was supplemented with objects made in Europe in imitation of Chinese originals – this became known as Chinoiserie.

Scandinavia, also, no doubt, is a far-flung, desirable destination for Chinese visitors these days with huge increases in visitor numbers; clean, green and with lots of fantastic monuments and palaces and photo opportunities – they are spread from Norway to Denmark. On the day we visited, many Chinese, like us, were seeking another treasure at Drottningholm…

Located in the grounds of the Palace, and listed as one of Sweden’s royal palaces, lies the Chinese Pavilion. Constructed between 1753 and 1769, The Chinese Pavilion was a gift to Queen Louisa on her 33rd birthday in 1753 from King Adolf Fredrik.

In a letter to her mother, the Queen wrote: “He led me to one side of the garden and suddenly to my surprise, I found myself gazing upon a real fairytale creation, for the King had built a Chinese palace, the loveliest imaginable.”

The impressive art collection in the Chinese Pavilion consists of Chinese clay figurines, dolls, urns, lacquer furniture, paintings and other art pieces from China dating to 1753; also luxury items brought to Sweden by the Swedish East India Company:  porcelain, silk, etc. China had become a paradise to Swedes and everyone wanted to get a glimpse of this fabled, but to Europeans, forbidden land.

There are four houses, also in Chinese style, next to the pavilion. One of these which took my fancy is the Confidance. The Confidance is a dining room building where the tables (dining and serving table) are fixed on a lift device. The tables were set on the floor below the royal dining room and on a given signal they were hoisted up through the floor. This meant that the royals could eat their dinner without the presence of servants, en confidance.

The walls in the Yellow Room are covered with Chinese lacquered panels, at the time a fascinating technique since no parallel craft existed in Europe. The panels depict relations between Asia and Europe in the 1700s. The motifs are scenes from Canton (Guangzhou).

Inside the Pavilion, the Royal Family was surrounded by this exotic world and spent time reading, drawing, embroidering and conversing, and no doubt imagining what the real China was like.

Having been built in haste and secrecy, the original small castle did not endure the harsh Swedish climate. After ten years, the wooden frame started to rot and the king and queen commissioned a new and bigger pavilion made from more durable materials which remains today.

Fashionable today amongst Chinese tourists, a pilgrimage to see the pavilion is gaining in popularity, as is all of Scandinavia  – exotic, just like China was three centuries earlier. Perhaps the content in Chinese translation on the website or the tours in Mandarin have encouraged Chinese visitors to make the trip.

Some framed calligraphy appears to have been copied by non-Chinese artists – see if you can make sense of it!

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Saturday 23rd September
8:18 am