The Old Summer Palace of Beijing, China otherwise known as Yuanmingyuan Park is literally translated as the ‘Gardens of Perfect Brightness’. It was the main imperial residence of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and his successors. Considered to be the pinnacle of imperial gardens and palace design it was reputed as the ‘Garden of Gardens’.
During the second Opium war French and British captured the palace on 6 October 1960 and took days to loot followed by around 4000 troops to burn down 3.5km (860 acres) over a 3 day period. It is estimated by UNESCO that 47 museums around the world contain Summer Palace loot. The blazing ambiguous sunset or sunrise colour palette refers to the days of burning subverting the notion of Gardens of Brightness.
‘You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one's heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully.’ (Charles George Gordon, Royal Engineers captain, 1860 Anglo-French expeditionary force)
The two holy mountains of Sinai and Song appear like wings of the still life or could be viewed as a collision that forms the broken grounds like a fractured pillar for the still life to sit upon. The painting's foreground is a map of the Summer palace that appears to be part of a broken fragment of a larger whole accentuated by the ruin of Dashuifa. Surreal in scale the ‘Mille Fleurs’ Qianlong Emperor vase contains flowers from a Dutch Golden Age still life in reference to what is considered to be the birth of Modern Capitalism and the first recorded economic bubble with Tulipmania. It also contains flowers from Giuseppe Castiglione, a Jesuit missionary who became a painter at the court of the emperor. The rest of the composition is filled with sunflowers made from painted marks on plastic that are peeled and assembled together before being collaged to the surface of the painting. Sunflowers are used as a symbol to face the sun/god, here they are multi-directional but seem to be mostly facing toward the viewer.