Wednesday, March 26, 2014


 The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
Painted ca. 1834-5, oil on canvas, 92.1 x 123.2 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art: The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
Painted 1835, oil on canvas, 92.5 x 123 cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art: Bequest of John L. Severance, 1842.647
A fire is raging.  In which picture do you feel the heat?
Where is the wind blowing in the two paintings?
Boiling hot sparks are flying everywhere.
Can you see the stars?
Find the reflection of the moon in the water. 
All of London is watching.
Click and zoom:

At 6pm, on October 16, 1834 a gigantic ball of fire blew through the roof of the old Houses of Parliament in London.

That morning workmen had stuffed the basement furnace with too many sticks of wood.  The dirty flues overheated and exploded.  The fire raged for hours and the large medieval complex burned to the ground.  No one was left in the buildings and the blaze did not destroy Westminster Bridge.
Turner, the most famous artist in Britain, grabbed his sketchbook and raced to the banks of the River Thames. There he made sketches of the horrific spectacle. 

The Conflagration from Burning of the Houses of Parliament (2) Sketchbook,
Tate, London, Accepted by the Nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1856, CCLXXXIV
He had painted the four elements all his life and there he saw all four together in one terrifying moment. Later that night Turner took a boat down the river to get a different angle.
Back in his studio, Turner makes the two paintings from memory and with the help of his sketches.  He does not paint sharp contrasts.  Instead, he blends the colors. Turner wants you to feel the moment. His brush is loaded with thick, pasty paint, impasto.  In some areas he applies the paint with his palette knife (a metal tool used for mixing paint).
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