Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London

1841

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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
D27854
Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 9

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 the roughest and least colourful of the studies, perhaps indicating the fire dying down after the fierce chromatic outbursts in the others.
Addressing the sequence of studies in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender felt that only this work, D27847, D27850 and D27853 included ‘shapes that can be remotely identified with the Parliamentary complex’, in this case possibly indicating Westminster Bridge on the right.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; he suggested that this view might be at dawn, with fire-fighting boats and indications of sprays of water from hoses.3
1
Solender 1984, pp.50–1.
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.
Verso:
Blank

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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