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Joseph Mallord William Turner

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

About the Artwork

The Houses of Parliament in London burned on the night of October 16, 1834. Along with tens of thousands of spectators, Joseph Mallord William Turner viewed the conflagration from directly opposite the Palace of Westminster, on the south bank of the Thames. Here he exaggerates the scale of Westminster Bridge, which rises like a massive iceberg at right and then on the opposite bank seems to plunge down and dissolve in the blaze. At the dazzling heart of the flames is Saint Stephen's Hall, the House of Commons, while beyond the towers of Westminster Abbey, which would be spared, are eerily illuminated. Turner was drawn to depictions of nature in cataclysmic eruption, and here in the middle of London he confronted a scene of terrifying force and drama that he recorded in several watercolor sketches and two paintings, now both in American public collections. The second, painted from a site further down the river near Waterloo Bridge, is in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Christopher Riopelle, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 189

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