The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons

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 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 is illuminating the towers of Westminster Abbey. The fire reflects in the water and on a crowd of spectators in the foreground. To the right of the painting, Westminster Bridge looms bright white from the light of the fire. The perspective of the bridge closest to the fire is distorted emphasising the fire’s’ destruction.

Turner made multiple sketches using both pencil and watercolour in two sketchbooks from different vantage points, including from a boat. Turner also painted a second painting on the same subject, from further downstream, closer to Waterloo Bridge, later in the same year 1835.

Joseph Mallord William Turner 012“The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by J. M. W. Turner at the Cleveland 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             H: 36.25 in (92.1 cm). W: 48.5 in (123.2 cm).
  • Museum:                 Philadelphia 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