Old Summer Palace

Beijing, China

Arson 1860

The Disappointed Tourist: Old Summer Palace, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

What a loss. Anon.

The Old Summer Palace or Gardens of Perfect Brightness (Chinese: 圆明园; 圓明園) was a complex of palaces and gardens in the Haidan District of Beijing. It was constructed in the 18th and early 19th centuries and was the residence of the Emperors of the Qing dynasty. It was destroyed by the Anglo-French expedition in the Second Opium War in 1860, at the order of the British High Commissioner to China, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, in retaliation for the death and torture of the delegation sent to negotiate the Qing surrender. It took 4,000 men three days of arson to destroy the site. Many artworks and treasures were looted and can now be found in 47 museums throughout the world. A partial copy was built in 1997 in Zhuhai in Guongdong province, as part of an amusement park. I made two paintings of this site. The first one was mysteriously “lost” by Fedex returning from Milwaukee. It was then sold by Fedex from overstock and I had to buy back my painting from the woman who bought it from them and listed it on Artsy. In the meantime, I’d made another one but I think this is better one. The painting is based on an uncredited engraving from  1781–86.