William Alexander, Pingze Men, the Western Gate of Beijing, a watercolour drawing

Dated AD 1799

William Alexander (1767-1816) accompanied Lord Macartney's embassy to visit the Chinese Emperor in Beijing from 1792 to 1794. From numerous sketches he made during his stay, he painted this watercolour scene and many others when he returned to England and had engravings made and published of some of his views.

Chinese peasants populate the scene, going about their business while guards are visible on the towering, thick walls. Below, a junk passes under the bridge in a procession of trading boats. Until the 1950s, when the bridge and the walls were demolished, this busy gate was the main western gate of Beijing (formerly Peking). The bridge in the foreground still stands.

William Alexander became the first Keeper of Prints and Drawings at The British Museum in 1808, not through any great knowledge and connoisseurship of prints or drawings but due to his skills as a draughtsman. The Trustees wanted engravings of the Townley Collection of classical sculptures, and the first Print Room was housed in a room in the Townley Wing. Alexander was said to have been a charming and friendly man to those who visited the collection.

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More information


L. Stainton, British landscape watercolours (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

M. Jacobs, The painted voyage: art, trave (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

S. Legouix and P. Conner, William Alexander: an English (Brighton Art Gallery and Museum, 1981)

S. Legouix, Image of China: William Alexan (Jupiter Books, 1980)


Height: 284.000 mm
Width: 448.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1882-8-12-225



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