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The Hall of the Inner Temple after the Fire of 4 January 1736/37
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Hall of the Inner Temple after the Fire of 4 January 1736/37
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 95.2 cm
25 1/2 x 37 1/2 in
The picture records the devastation caused by a fire that destroyed Crown Office Row in the Inner Temple, London, during the night of 4 January 1737 - fortunately without loss of life. The group of figures in the centre includes Frederick, Prince of Wales (in blue, wearing the Garter star) with Dr Thomas Sherlock, Master of the Temple. The Prince had sent 50 soldiers to help fight the fire and later came to inspect the scene himself.
London, Tate Gallery, 1987-88, Manners and Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760 (100); London, Cardiff and New Haven 1982-83 (1)
Sir Thomas Saunders Sebright, 4th Baronet (1692-1736) or Thomas Sclater (later Bacon) FRS (c.1664-1736); their sale Christopher Cock's premises, Great Piazza, Covent Garden, Day 2, 18 May 1737 (32) [ ...] bequeathed to the National Gallery by Richard and Catherine Garnons, 1854; transferred to the Tate Gallery, 1929 as 'Wilson School'.
Signed, dated and inscribed on the mirror, left centre: R. Wilson | f | 1737 |The fire | ...
[1] 191 | Frame at | Compton Street
This is a record of the destoyed Hall of the Inner Temple, London, after the fire of 4 January 1736/37. Numerous visitors are present, including Frederick Prince of Wales. A water pump which was used to fight the fire is shown in the left corner. The Inner Temple was (and is) one of the four Inns of Court, professional associations of barristers and judges, situated on the western side of the City of London.
This topographical view of an actual event is Wilson's earliest known dated landscape. It was probably painted in the hope of patronage from Frederick, Prince of Wales, seen here in the centre wearing the Garter star (see also P1). If so it was unsuccessful. Wilson may also have been drawn to the scene because his cousin, Charles Pratt, later Earl Camden, was currently at the Temple, preparing for the Bar.
Read's Weekly Journal, 8 January 1737; The Old Whig or the Consistent Protestant, 13 January 1737; 'A Catalogue of those valuable collections of the Hon. Sir Thomas Sebright, Baronet and of Thomas Sclater Bacon Esq' in The Art World in Britain 1660-1735 at http://artworld.york.ac.uk; E. Einberg, 'Richard Wilson's earliest dated Painting: The Story of a dreadful Calamity', Burlington Magazine vol. 119, June 1977, pp. 436-41; Solkin 1982, pp. 143-44.
Inner Temple, City of London
Fires were a regular hazard in London, as had been demonstrated 70 years earlier by the Great Fire of 1666. They were fought with waterpumps which had to be filled by hand from the nearest water source. The Thames, though nearby, was at low tide when this fire broke out, impeding the process. Combined with a stiff breeze, this had made the conflagration more extensive than it might have been. The Hall of the Inner Temple was rebuilt and then again rebuilt 1868-1870. Destroyed in 1940 during the Blitz it was rebuilt once more 1952-55. The first owners of the painting seem to have been either Sir Thomas Saunders Sebright, 4th Baronet (1692-1736) or Thomas Sclater (later Bacon) FRS (c. 1664-1736), an English lawyer and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1713 and 1736.
Medium weight linen canvas. Relined. Original tacking margins retained at time of lining. Warm grey ground extends over tacking edges. Visual examination and sampling by Anne Baxter, 1982, who noted: Oil on primed, lined and stretched canvas. Simple, closed weave flax fibre 16 x 17 threads. Warm grey ground. Cusps on all four sides indicate that the painting was primed on a loom the same size as the stretcher or possibly on the stretcher itself. The painting was done in two stages, with red earth paint clearly visible directly in the ground delineating the townscape, while the figures were drawn in on top of the painting of the landscape. The blue pigment of the sky, which is sketchy, was found to be indigo or a similar organic dye.