Stowe's Chinese House Restoration

The Chinese House at Stowe: a small square building with brightly painted patterned walls and a curved roof.

The Chinese House is a tiny little folly in the Pheasantry near the Palladian Bridge at Stowe. It is intricately decorated with Chinese scenes, flowers and calligraphy. Despite being protected in the winter, the paintwork has badly deteriorated in the last few years. This autumn specialist conservators have been working to stabilise the paint layers and protect it for the future.

The Chinese House dates from around 1738 and is believed to have been designed by the architect William Kent (1685-1748). Kent was working on several garden buildings at Stowe at the time. The pavilion originally stood on poles in the middle of a pond near the Elysian Fields. (The pond no longer exists). Italian artist Francesco Sleter painted the decoration.

The pavilion was moved to Wotton House in Buckinghamshire until 1959 then went to Kildare in Ireland until 1992. In 1998, after a fundraising appeal and extensive restoration by the National Trust, the Chinese House was returned to Stowe. 

Under attack from the elements

Despite being protected by a canvas awning during the winter months, the condition of the exterior painted decoration had deteriorated in the last few years. The heat from the sun causes the timber structure to expand and contract. The paint has also been under attack from wind and rain.

This autumn specialist conservators have been completing consolidation work on the historic paintings; stabilising the paint layers to improve the surface appearance.

Conservation treatment

Treatment to the exterior included: consolidation of flaking paint layers, surface dirt removal, reforming of the existing varnish, gap filling, in-painting losses to the decorative scheme and applying a final varnish layer.

There was also minimal treatment of the late 18th century decoration on the interior, including removing the facing tissue, light surface dirt removal and a trial of varnish removal and re-varnishing of one panel.

See the completed work

The conservators' work is now finished and the scaffolding has been removed allowing us to get a close up view of their handiwork. Stop by the Chinese House before 12 November to see the work for yourself. The house will then be wrapped up until spring to protect it from the winter weather. 

The Chinese House at Stowe following conservation work
The Chinese House at Stowe following conservation work
The Chinese House at Stowe following conservation work