The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament

Joseph Mallord William Turner 012

 “The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by J. M. W. Turner depicts the fire that broke out at the Houses of Parliament in 1834. Turner himself witnessed the Burning of Parliament from the south bank of the River Thames, opposite Westminster.

The painting shows the Houses of Parliament overwhelmed in golden flames. The fire is consuming the chamber of the House of Commons, and presents a view from downstream, close to Waterloo Bridge. The flames and smoke blowing dramatically over the Thames as the London spectators look on from the river bank and from boats .

Turner made multiple sketches using both pencil and watercolour in two sketchbooks from different vantage points, including from a boat. Turner also painted an earlier painting on the same subject, from further upstream, next to Westminster Bridge, earlier in the same year 1835.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, English - The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834 - Google Art Project
“The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons” by J. M. W. Turner at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The colours and composition of these paintings may have influenced Turner’s conception of his later painting of “The Fighting Temeraire“, which also depicts the passing of an old order.

Many of Turner’s paintings can be found in museums across the world, depict famous landscapes and seascapes. My favourites include:

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
  • Artist:                       J.M.W. Turner
  • Year:                         1835
  • Medium:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions             92 × 123 cm (36.2 × 48.4 in)
  • Museum:                 Cleveland Museum of Art

Artist Essential Facts:

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“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Benjamin Franklin

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Photo Credit: 1) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons