Session - 27 November 2020
Professor Louise Tythacott, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Dr Stacey Pierson, SOAS, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Professor Nick Pierce, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Katrina Hill, College of Arts, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
This session will analyse the collections of imperial Chinese Yuanmingyuan, or ‘Summer Palace’, objects formed in the UK in the 19th century. It will focus on military officers involved in the looting of the Yuanmingyuan in Beijing in October 1860, at the end of the Second Opium War – men such as Elgin, Grant, Gordon, Wolseley, Crealock and Negroni - and will document the trajectories of the material they brought back with them to Britain. Some of the pieces were displayed at major public exhibitions (the 1862 International Exhibition and the Crystal Palace in London), while other artefacts were donated or bequeathed to museums in the late 19th-early 20th century. The session will also explore the role of the art market - especially Christie’s and Sotheby’s, but also smaller provincial auction houses - in promoting the collecting of ‘Summer Palace’ loot, and the shifting interpretations given to this material from the mid-late 19th century. Once relocated to the UK, ‘Summer Palace’ material was transformed and reformed to fit the aesthetics and tastes of the time, and the session thus explores the distinctive meanings and values attributed to Yuanmingyuan artefacts by a range of British collectors.