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The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834

1835

Joseph Mallord William Turner

(British, 1775-1851)

Oil on canvas

Framed: 123.5 x 153.5 x 12 cm (48 5/8 x 60 7/16 x 4 3/4 in.); Unframed: 92 x 123.2 cm (36 1/4 x 48 1/2 in.)

Bequest of John L. Severance 1942.647

Description

On the night of October 16, 1834, fire consumed the Houses of Parliament in London. Londoners gathered along the banks of the river Thames to gaze in awe at the horrifying spectacle. Initially, a low tide made it difficult to pump water to fire-fighting equipment on land; likewise, it hampered steamers towing fire-fighting equipment up the river. Although the tides eventually shifted, the effort was futile, as the fire burned uncontrollably for hours. Turner records this as the steamers in the lower-right corner head toward the flames.Although Turner based the painting on an actual event, he used the disaster as the starting point to express man’s helplessness when confronted with the destructive powers of nature, here dissolved in brilliant swaths of color and variable atmospheric effects that border on abstraction.

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