Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London

1841

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 235 x 325 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27852
Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 7

Catalogue entry

This watercolour study was originally one of nine consecutive leaves (D27846–D27854; Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 1–9) in a sketchbook. They have previously been documented with varying degrees of certainty as showing the 1834 fire at the Houses of Parliament beside the River Thames in central London, but are here identified as representing the similarly large and dramatic fire which broke out at the moated Tower of London on 30 October 1841, destroying the late seventeenth-century Grand Storehouse (see the Introduction to the sketchbook for detailed discussion). This is one of the least architecturally defined studies, but the White Tower may be shown just to the right of the fire, south of the incandescent Grand Storehouse, and there seems to be a hint of pale buildings receding beyond the moat to the south-east on the left. Compare the equally elemental treatment in D27853.
Addressing the sequence of studies in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender felt that the ‘fluid colours’ of this work, D27848 and D24849 ‘suggest burning architectural forms within an atmospheric setting, but these cannot be related to the fire at Westminster with any certainty’.1 In his extended catalogue entry for Turner’s painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834, exhibited at the British Institution in 1835 (Philadelphia Museum of Art),2 Richard Dorment presented a sustained interpretation of the this and the other eight watercolour studies in terms of a sequence reflecting the topography and chronology of the 1834 Westminster fire.3
1
Solender 1984, p.50.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.207–10 no.359, pl.364 (colour).
3
Dorment 1986, pp.400–1.
Technical notes:
There is extensive watercolour offsetting on the verso (D40152), transferred from D27853 (Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 8).

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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