It will be the Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, which is this painting:
on this piece of wood:
As can be seen, the canvas presents some interesting challenges in terms of execution: the 'canvas' has a few fissures, including one that's 2 or 3 inches long. As well, the surface is not even - creating a lot of interesting texture that can be an obstacle when a lot of detail is involved. Thankfully, this particular painting is not as heavy on details as many others of Turner's, such as the Battle of Trafalgar:
|my version Battle of Trafalgar on old barn door|
The commission is a housewarming gift for a woman who is a great Turner scholar and talented painter in her own right. She has this to say about the Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons:
"Turner has a unique way of capturing how lovely a fire can be. He always has signature bands of smoke and long streams of light that create amazing colors and movement! '"A great way to see this is not only from the painting itself, but from many of the watercolour studies for this painting and other fires that Turner created, and which live at the Tate:
"The present Tower study is notable in being the only one of the nine to incorporate gouache: a touch of white is combined with scratching out to render a bright light through a window of the towers silhouetted towards the left. This may be an effect Turner observed or imagined, or perhaps the report caught his attention."
"This one of the most atmospheric and least detailed of the studies, but there are slight indications of the cuboid, turreted form of the White Tower to the right of the centre, suggesting that the view is from the north-east.
Addressing the sequence of studies in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender felt that the ‘fluid colours’ of this work, D24849 and D27852 ‘suggest burning architectural forms within an atmospheric setting, but these cannot be related to the fire at Westminster with any certainty’
"Addressing the sequence of studies in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender felt that the ‘fluid colours’ of this work, D27848 and D27852 ‘suggest burning architectural forms within an atmospheric setting, but these cannot be related to the fire at Westminster with any certainty’.1 "
"Here Turner appears to represent the roof and clock tower of the storehouse relatively intact, with crowds picked out at the edge of the moat at the lower left. The roof and clock tower fell at an early stage, and this study is possibly a fanciful view of the fire at the point when it was spreading from the Bowyer Tower, where it broke out, to the roof. On the left in the distance appear to be buildings on the near side of St Katharine Docks to the south-east."
Addressing the subject in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender nevertheless noted that this and another of the studies (D27846) ‘contain shapes alluding to classical architecture’, with ‘suggestions of columns and entablatures more closely resembling Greco-Roman structures than the British Houses of Parliament’,1 comparing them to the Turner watercolour, probably of the middle 1830s, known as The Burning of Rome (Tate D36232; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 370), inferring the possibility of an ‘allegory’ of political decay.2 The close-set vertical features seem rather to be the narrow brick walls between the Grand Storehouse’s tall windows, with the pattern of alternating fire and brickwork repeated as reflections below. In his extended catalogue entry for Turner’s painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834, exhibited at the British Institution in 1835 (Philadelphia Museum of Art),3 Richard Dorment presented a sustained interpretation of the this and the other eight watercolour studies in terms of a sequence reflecting the topography and chronology of the 1834 Westminster fire; he noted crowds watching along the bank.4
|Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London 1841 Watercolour on paper|
This watercolour study was originally one of nine consecutive leaves (D27846–D27854; Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 1–9) in a sketchbook. They have previously been documented with varying degrees of certainty as showing the 1834 fire at the Houses of Parliament beside the River Thames in central London, but are here identified as representing the similarly large and dramatic fire which broke out at the moated Tower of London on 30 October 1841, destroying the late seventeenth-century Grand Storehouse (see the Introduction to the sketchbook for detailed discussion). This is one of the least architecturally defined studies, but the White Tower may be shown just to the right of the fire, south of the incandescent Grand Storehouse, and there seems to be a hint of pale buildings receding beyond the moat to the south-east on the left. Compare the equally elemental treatment in D27853.
"Here, the tall windows of the Grand Storehouse are lit by the fire within, and are shown from the north-west across beyond the moat and the dark masses of the outer defences. The composition is comparable with that of Destruction of the Small Armoury in the Tower of London, on the Night of 30th Oct., 1841, a lithograph after William Collingwood Smith (1815–1887) published on 8 November 1841, and the similar view in Destructive Fire at the Tower of London. October 30th 1841, a colour lithograph after J.L. Marks, a more graphic, unsophisticated rendering, enlivened by agitated crowds and galloping horses (see the Introduction for other comparisons between Turner’s studies and contemporary prints)."
|The Burning of the Houses of Parliament c.1834–5 Watercolour and gouache on paper|
What I saw above demonstrates the way he can accomplish such luminosity, even with watercolours that did not use gouache. One obvious way of accomplishing this was through adding that remarkably heavy, dense dark blues and greys so that the areas he left white or washed over with yellow really stand out. This was occurring in all these sketches, but in particular the last two I posted really demonstrate this to me. Many more sketches, some just in charcoal, exist on the Tate website and I may have occasion to discuss them later.
This will be the first time in three years that I get to work on one of these delightful Turner works on wood, so I am supremely excited. The nice part of this one is, since I will only have one to work on, and a few weeks to prepare it, so I will have some time to really plan it well. I may succeed in achieving a depth of process that was only approximated when I was needing to churn them out within a 10 or 15 hour period! Hopefully I will not be working on it at the dead of night!