The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834

J. M. W. Turner1835

The Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, United States

Fire consumed London’s famous Houses of Parliament on the night of October 16, 1834, and people gathered along the banks of the river Thames to gaze in awe at the horrifying spectacle. Initially, a low tide made it difficult to pump water to land and hampered steamers towing firefighting equipment along the river. The blaze burned uncontrollably for hours.

J. M. W. Turner records the struggle as the boats in the lower-right corner head toward the flames. Although Turner based the painting on an actual event, he magnified the height of the flames, using the disaster as the starting point to express man’s helplessness when confronted with the destructive powers of nature. Brilliant swathes of color and variable atmospheric effects border on abstraction.

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  • Title: The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834
  • Creator: Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851)
  • Date Created: 1835
  • Physical Dimensions: Framed: 123.5 x 153.5 x 12 cm (48 5/8 x 60 7/16 x 4 3/4 in.); Unframed: 92 x 123.2 cm (36 1/4 x 48 1/2 in.)
  • Provenance: Bought from the artist by John Garth Marshall [1765-1845], Headingly House, Leeds, United Kingdom, and by descent., (Christie's, London, United Kingdom, April 28, 1888, under the name of Ponsford., Descended in the Marshall family through Victor Marshall of Mark Coniston to James Marshall., (Leicester Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 1920, sale; but returned to owner), (Knoedler, London, United Kingdom, 1922, sold to John L. Severance), John L. Severance [1863-1936], Cleveland, OH, by bequest in 1936 to the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: CC0
  • External Link: https://clevelandart.org/art/1942.647
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Fun Fact: Turner painted two versions of this event. Cleveland's painting views the fire downriver, from the southeast bank of the Thames, while the second version at the Philadelphia Museum of Art views the fire from directly across Westminster Bridge.
  • Department: Modern European Painting and Sculpture
  • Culture: England, 19th century
  • Credit Line: Bequest of John L. Severance
  • Collection: Mod Euro - Painting 1800-1960
  • Accession Number: 1942.647

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