George Jones

The Burning Fiery Furnace, study for N00389


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
George Jones 1786–1869
Watercolour on paper
Support: 546 × 403 mm
Purchased 1975

Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘Geo Jones R A’ l.r.
Watercolour on paper, 21 1/2×15 7/8 (54.6×40.4)
Purchased from Abbott and Holder (Grant-in-Aid) 1975
Coll: ...; Abbott and Holder

By what Jones himself called ‘a previous friendly arrangement’, both he and Turner included representations of ‘The Burning Fiery Furnace’ among their exhibits at the R.A. in 1832. Jones recounts the story in pp.15–16 of his manuscript ‘Reminiscences’ (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). Turner had asked Jones what he intended to paint for the forthcoming exhibition. ‘I told him that I had chosen the delivery of Shadrach, Mesheck and Abednego from the Fiery Furnace - “a good subject, I will paint it also”...’ Having ordered panels of identical size, the two artists painted without looking at each other's work. In the R.A. exhibition of 1832, Jones' version was No.256, Turner's No.355; both were hung in the School of Painting. Most reviewers contented themselves with joking about the sudden outbreak of fire in the Academy; but the reviewer in the Athenaeum, 12 May (No.237 pp.308–9) singled out Jones' version, with Turner's ‘Italy’, as ‘the highest or at least the purest efforts of imagination in the place’.

Both Jones' and Turner's versions are now in the Tate collections, where Jones' version is 389 and Turner's 517. Both were exhibited at the Turner Bicentenary Exhibition at the R.A. 1974–5 (Jones' version as B38, Turner's B39). Both were originally exhibited with verses from the Book of Daniel, chapter iii, instead of titles. Jones chose verses 24–25, Turner verse 26. Both depict the crux of the drama, which is not so much the fact that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerge unscathed from the burning fiery furnace as that Nebuchadnezzer acknowledges their deliverance as proof of the power of God. Jones' is the more literal interpretation. He has chosen the moment when, having consigned the three men to be bound and cast into the furnace for defying his orders to worship a golden image, Nebuchadnezzer ‘was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake and said unto his counsellors, Did I not cast three men into the fire? They answered and said unto the King, True, O King. He answered and said Lo, I see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’ Bearded, crowned and dramatically gesturing, Nebuchadnezzer dominates the centre of Jones' composition; in Turner's, he is a shadowy presence on a canopied throne high on the left.

The colouring of T01958, Jones' preliminary study, is subdued yet forceful: Rembrandtesque browns and greys. While there are some minor differences in the attitudes of the foreground figures, the most significant difference between Jones' sketch and his finished painting lies in the representation of the ‘image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits and the breadth thereof six cubits’, erected by Nebuchadnezzer for compulsory worship. In the drawing, the image towers above the flames of the furnace, dwarfing the figures of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; though they triumph, the image appears to override them. In the painting the image is relegated to the right; partly obscured by the towering stonework of the King's throne, it is visible only as a shadowy, impotent mask, and the victor in this ordeal by faith, more easily depicted in oil than in watercolour, is the luminous figure of the Son of God, miraculously and momentarily visible behind the emerging figures of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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