Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London


On loan

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Vienna, Austria): Beethoven - piano forte

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 235 × 325 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 4

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). Here there appears to be no indication of the White Tower, directly south of the storehouse, and it is presumably lost to view in the flames and smoke.
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 D27852 ‘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
The artist Tony Smibert (born 1949) has used this work as the basis of a free copy exercise to explore and demonstrate Turner’s watercolour techniques.4
Solender 1984, p.50.
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).
Dorment 1986, pp.400–1.
Smibert 2010, pp.78–9, figs.1–4 (colour, showing Smibert’s interpretation).
Technical notes:
There is extensive watercolour offsetting on the verso (D40153), transferred from Tate D27850 (Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 5).

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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