Joseph Mallord William Turner is famous for his series of paintings depicting the catastrophic fire that destroyed the British Houses of Commons and Lords on October 16-17, 1834. As an eyewitness to the fire, Turner produced two major oil paintings of the event as seen from the Thames: The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 at the British Institution (at present Philadelphia Museum of Art) and The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834 at the Royal Academy (Cleveland Museum of Art).
In this work by Turner, viewers can observe a large crowd which has been held back by soldiers. Firemen can be seen working valiantly against a dominating inferno in front of them. While both works depict different views from across the Thames, this painting displays an awe-inspiring golden flame that all but overtakes what remains from eroded parts of Parliament. Titled “The Burning Of The Houses Of Lords And Commons, 16Th October, 1834” , this painting is representative Turner’s personal reaction to witnessing one of Britain’s greatest tragedies. Through his use of colour and light – along with artistry – Turner masterfully captures depth and symbolism to reflect both a literal meaning as well as emotional response to history’s great disaster.