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Desolation, 1873, A. Wordsworth Thompson (American, 1840-1896), Oil on canvas, Gift of Sheila and Alvin Ukman, 1976.8.1.

Wordsworth Thompson’s painting of the ruins of the Palace of St. Cloud launched his career. The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, prompted by rising tensions between France and Prussia over the German unification and rise to power. German states led by Prussia began a siege of the Paris and its suburbs, including St. Cloud.

The French destroyed the palace there, once a country retreat of French royalty, after Prussian officers occupied it. This painting of the palace ruins-a lone bugle and canon in the snowy foreground, the elegant façade covered in icicles-was a poetic but sorrowful reminder of the brutalities of war, and a souvenir of a palace that was never rebuilt.