The burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons | J.M.W. Turner | 1835
How do I begin a post of Turner?
I don’t know. The only thing I can say is that Joseph-Mallord-William Turner is one of my favorite artists. I think there was no artist like him and there is not going to be anyone like him.
The son of a barber, Turner starts drawing and painting at age 4 and the proud father exhibits his paintings in his barbershop. Turner’s talent was so notorious that he gets accepted in the Royal Academy of Art with 14 years; and there his professional career starts.
The artist was always interested in architecture and that’s why, in his early work, we generally see paintings with clear and detailed buildings, that illustrate several different situations. But Turner wasn’t satisfied, neither with this realism, nor with mastering an impeccable technique, but he strived to perfect his style even more.
Turner’s mission was not just to be a good painter; or to simply earn his means. Turner’s mission was spiritual. He believed that light was the spirit of God; and thus we distanced himself from that realism that was limiting him and, little by little, he would abstract himself. Light, then, becomes his primary concern, not just as an optical phenomenon; but as a spiritual expression. So the artist becomes interested by its reflection in water, clouds or fires; as by its effects in different atmospheric situations such as rain, storms and fog. It seems that this idea obsessed Turner. Such was his sophistication (and obsession) that, for example, years after his death, several notebooks full of drawings were found. They only contained one motif: clouds.
The burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons was a true event that happened in London in 1834. The artist, that lived there, rented a small boat to see the spectacle from different angles and; once he came back to his studio, he painted the work by heart. In the canvas, we see the English parliament burning behind the river Thames. In the foreground, we see the crowd that, like the artist, was watching the event.
The first thing that draws our attention is the luminosity of the flames. 200 years after the work was painted, the colors seem to bright by themselves, without losing any intensity. The dark blues of the sky and the greens of the river Thames make a contrast with the warm colors of the fire. This interaction gives us the same expectant anxiety we feel before the immensity, before that what is above us and make us feel little. The figures, on the other hand, are diffuse and hard to recognize; especially in the boats in the river Thames. But this is the intention of the artist: we should not stop to analyze details, but rather we should feel this painting’s effect on us as a unified whole.
Turner transforms reality making it confusedly abstract at the same time he makes it more real and dramatic. That is why is never going to be anyone like him.
The story tells that, before dying, the artist said one last thing: “The sun is God”.