On numerous occasions, painters have used their art to represent historical facts, to leave testimony of events that they themselves were able to witness, thus becoming a kind of reporters of their time. This type of canvas is highly valued not only for its artistic qualities but also as a source of historical information that allows us to carry out a more detailed study of certain events. The painting that we are analyzing today is one of those canvases that represents a historical event that the artist was able to observe firsthand, it is the Fire of the House of Lords and Commons made by the English painter, William Turner.
On the night of October 16, 1834, one of the buildings that best represented the monarchy of London, its own Parliament, burned to the amazement of Londoners. The fire broke out in the middle of the night in the House of Lords due to an overheating stove and destroyed much of the building, leaving Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, the crypt of St. Stephen's Chapel and the the cloisters. The painter William Turner witnessed the events from different places and took multiple sketches, filling in two sketchbooks that would bear fruit years later in the form of two different canvases en titled The Fire in the House of Lords and Thefire from Waterloo Bridge.
However, both canvases were made the year after the events occurred and without using the sketches that Turner took about it, trusting only in the memories that he kept of such a devastating fire and that had been recorded in the retinas of the. In the work en titled The Fire in the House of Lords, which is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we find the building in the background of the composition, enveloped in whitish and orange flames while a large column of dark smoke, almost blackish, it goes in the opposite direction, hiding the image of the bridge next to which the painter stands and takes reference to create a vanishing point that leads us to the flames.
For its part, the canvas en titled The fire from Waterloo Bridge has as its main focus of attention the flames and their reflection on the waters of the River Thames. On this occasion also you can see the building engulfed in flames, which are much more vigorous than those of its partner, with more orange tones. In both canvases the artist records the crowd that witnessed the events surrounding the riverbank.
The atmosphere created by the flames and smoke impressed the artist whose obsession was to capture the atmosphere on his canvases. With a loose and sketchy brushstroke Tuner preludes in these compositions the impressionist aesthetics of the yearslater.