The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, by J. M. W. Turner. 1834-35. Watercolour and gouache on paper, 302 × 444 mm. Tate Britain D36235 Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 373 [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Commentary from the Tate Website

The catastrophic fire which destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster in central London, including the Houses of Lords and Commons, broke out on the evening of 16 October 1834. Apart from the medieval Westminster Hall, which was saved from the fire, most of the rest of the site on the west bank of the River Thames was eventually cleared for the construction of the iconic Victorian Houses of Parliament complex by Barry and Pugin which still functions as the seat of British government.

Turner is recorded as having been an eye-witness among thousands, though the extent of his recording the event directly has long been open to question. Certainly, of the two scenarios offered by Victorian curator William White – that the present work was ‘evidently executed either on the spot entirely during the fire, or else worked out immediately after’ – the first can safely be dismissed. Whether the composition ‘proves’ that the artist had been at this viewpoint on the night is debatable; see the discussion of related pencil sketches and prints by other artists below. In 1835, Turner exhibited two major oil paintings of the event as seen from the Thames: The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834, at the British Institution (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834, at the Royal Academy (Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio). A watercolour vignette of a view through an arch of Westminster Bridge (Museum of Outdoor Arts, Englewood, Colorado), was engraved for The Keepsake in 1836.

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Created 12 March 2020