Joseph Mallord William Turner

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
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 8

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 the fire has reached such a pitch that it seems almost to be an explosion, casting deep shadows down across the Tower’s outer defences to the moat. Newspaper reports noted that the fire occasionally flared up dramatically even after several days (see the Introduction). Compare the equally elemental treatment in D27852.
Addressing the sequence of studies in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender felt that only this work, and D27847, D27850 and D27854 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 the towers of Westminster Abbey are silhouetted beyond.3
In 2008 the German-based Japanese painter and photographer Hiroyuki Masuyama (born 1968) produced an LED lightbox image based on the present work as one of a series reinterpreting Turner’s landscapes, combining the original composition with digitally layered photographic landscape and architectural elements.4
Solender 1984, pp.50–1.
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; see also Warrell 1993, p.303, and Warrell 1994, p.190.
Madesani 2008, reproduced in colour p.15, as ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament No.2, 1834’, 2008.
Technical notes:

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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