Completed British 16th and 17th C, except portraits, Continental European before 1800, London: Artists and Subjects 31 Does this painting depict the Fire of London, or another conflagration? Who painted it?

The Fire of London
Topic: Artist

I am wondering whether the attribution to Daniel van Heil can be justified considering he died in 1664.

Most of the paintings of the Fire are anonymous and seem to derive from works by Thomas Wyck or Jan Griffier. This is close to a group of paintings attributed to ‘Waggonner’ (mentioned by George Vertue) or Dutch School or Anglo-Dutch School etc. and there is an example in the Society of Antiquaries.

and the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I found reference to a work sold at Christie's, 24th June 1977, lot 103, and am wondering if this is one and the same?

The collection comments:

The title and whether the painting does depict the Great Fire of London in 1666 (outwith the dates of Daniel van Heil) is also an interesting and worthy of a discussion. London was not the only city that experienced catastrophic fires in the seventeenth century, but it is probably the most documented.

There was a catalogue entry with Christie's from 1974 that attributes the painting to van Heil but it is simply entitled ‘A Conflagration of a Town by a River’.

Simon Turner, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

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Rannheid Sharma,

There seems to be a large bulding with a very tall tower slightly left of middle, which does not look like a church (more like a factory!). Also, to the very right is another building with two towers. Do they correspond to any historical records for London? The old St. Pauls had a spire. This does not look like London to me. And yes, several other cities suffered great fires. Unable to determing whether the water is a river or the sea.

Simon Turner,

Abraham "moonlight" Pether is mentioned in the recentl Society of Antiquaries catalogue of their paintings. fyi, the painting was restored in 2013 and the moon removed!!!

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There is a strong case for this being the Fire of London (and thus not connected with van Heil). It shares its viewpoint and its composition with the other two images referred to, in the Guildhall and the Soc of Ants, and less strongly with the one in the Museum of London. The first two clearly show the Tower of London, London Bridge and Southwark cathedral to the right, confirming London as the location. The NTS picture also shows the Tower of London.

Since it is likely none of the artists saw the city or the fire at first hand, other details of churches etc are inevitably mostly speculative - although there is consistency in the positions of the churches to the immediate left and right of St Paul's.

There is or was presumably a common source for these three images at least. The Museum of London version and an unrecorded one on pinterest (see also seem to be still cruder derivatives.

This will not be the painting sold in June of 1977. The Christie's entry for 1974 is a recommendation to the owner of potential sales to be made from the property. However, that painting was retained and remained with the property when it was handed over to the Trust after that date.

Scott Thomas Buckle,

The spire of old St Paul's was destroyed in 1561 and the building in the centre of the composition accords with the Cathedral's appearence in Visscher's panorama of 1616. I agree with Andrew that the rest of the topographical details are probably speculative, if the painter was not based in London, although the Tower of London to the right of the painting is in approximately the right place.

Simon Turner,

I would be interested in the reference to a painting sold in 1691. Thanks. I think finding an attribution in the derivative versions is unlikely unless they are signed! There is one of the Great Fire by Lieve Verschueir in Budapest.

Tim Williams,

On the Getty provenance database sales index do a search for 'Fire of London' and you should find the reference (direct links won't work with the website). The sales of the Waggoner versions are also recorded, as are many others.

Simon Turner,

Thanks. Other names such as Egbert van der Poel, Jan Looten, "Old Knife", Peter Monamy are also mentioned in sales from 1689 onwards ...

Not much like Jacob Knyff, and even less like Leonard (are there any other examples of Fires of London by either?) and Waggoner/Wagoner is a mystery. Artist search in the Getty sale index produces ten 'seaport'-type works under the first and two under the second (inc a 'Frost on the Thames') - but no Fires buy that route - and all between 1690 and 1692.

The immediate bell it rings to seafarers is as a corruption from the Dutch. A 'waggoner' is an early form of sea atlas, from Lucas Janz. Wagenhaer, 1533/4-1606 (not in Getty) the navigator/cartographer of the first one, titled 'Spiegel der Zeevaart' and of which the 1588 English version was 'The Mariner's Mirror': but while a mapmaker there is no suggestion he was a painter. If he had a relative who was that does not seem obvious.

Simon Turner,

Dear Peter van der Merwe,
Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I did not know it. I have just published an essay on depictions of the Fire of London for the exhibition Nature Unleashed, an exhibition now at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, which is why I was interested in the Haddo painting in the first place. The exhibition was to include a little-known painting preserved in Budapest, but alas funds did not stretch so far. Nor could any paintings from the Museum of London be borrowed. It is surprising just how many paintings there are of the Great Fire although many are derivatives.

Many thanks indeed, Simon

Simon Turner,

Not really without seeing the picture(s) in the flesh -- I saw ones mostly in London collections. It is the good old game of identifying the best ones from the derivative ones.

Glad that's useful: unfortunately I only saw it in the catalogue yesterday... Just in case it's not clear the other picture I mentioned as (I think) no longer with Barclay's was a 19th c. one, not another Wyck.

Does it get us anywhere on the picture under discussion?

The previous comment was from Pieter in July 2018. It has been agreed that this is The Great Fire of London, but would anyone like to comment further on the attribution?

We seem to have stalled on the question of the artist. If the group leaders agree that we are unlikely to make further progress, I suggest this thread could be closed.

Yes but on what note? Apparently not Daniel van Heil on date.

It is closest to the one in the Guildhall said to be 'after Waggoner c. 1666-1685', but no-one has yet produced any clue as to who or what that means. It certainly can't be the Dutch cartograpehic engraver Lucas Jansz Waghenaer (1534-1606), though perhaps someone later of Dutch derivation and the same surname -except no one has produced such a person as a painter or engraver, even to be 'after'. That's the identity that needs to be clarified.

The Thomas Wyck also produced above has similarities, but not as close, so I don't thing 'circle of Wyck' works.

I think we could certainly recommend that the title remains the same, but the artist changes to 'unknown', or 'unknown, formerly attributed to Daniel van Heil' as that would help associate the work with previous records.

Fair enough Thomas, but in that case let's raise the 'who is Waggoner?' question on the one in the Guildhall. Whoever he is, he seems to be wandering around like a lost soul on his own account and serving no practically helpful purpose to anyone else.

Museum of London,

That's a good idea. Happy to recommend closing this discussion and starting a new one on the Guildhall painting. (Perhaps a dig into George Vertue's notebooks or Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting in England will produce a few more clues.)

Andrew Shore,

Before the discussion closes, I wondered if the painting had anything to do with these two works in the British Museum:
(A watercolour said to be copied from a painting in the hall of the Painter-Stainers Company)
(An engraving/etching after a painting in Painter Stainers' Hall)

However, I can't find a reference to a painting of the Great Fire being at the Painter-Stainers' Hall on their current website, but I think that could be because that building was destroyed in the Second World War (after the initial one burnt down in the Great Fire).

But if the painting survived the bombing, is it perhaps the one now at Guildhall Art Gallery mentioned elsewhere in this discussion? And does it help with the artist of any of these works?

Simon Turner,

There are very few authentic and contemporary paintings of the Fire of London. Most are derivative. A contender for a genuine prototype is a painting by Thomas Wyck: see Malcolm Warner, The Image of London: Views by Travellers and Emigrés 1550-1920, The Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1987, no. 40 - collection of the Duke of Beaufort. No idea where the painting is today ...

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Simon Turner,

Apropos of the original query I would opt for "after Thomas Wyck", but it would be nice to see the Beaufort painting which is apparently signed.

Well-spotted Oliver: Scharf says the 18th-century Society of Antiquaries oil on canvas copy (with variations) after 'Waggoner' that he is describing is 3 ft 5 in. high x 6ft 5 in. wide, while the 'Wagoner' itself was oil on canvas 1ft 11in. high x 6ft 4 in. wide. (appendix p.48).

Also that Waggoner (p.49) was 'an artist not otherwise known' in his day, and only that because named in the Painter Stainers' inventory of 1724. We may not do any better but its worth asking.

The comment on the Mazell engraving after Waggoner on p.40 is worth logging, including for its source: 'The engraving taken from the latter by Mazell, and inserted in Pennant's London. is so extremely wretched as to miss even the slightest claim's to notice as an indication of the subject.'

There is however a caveat on that. Thomas Pennant's 'London' was first published in 1791. It is not immediately clear whether the apparently rather good panoramic format - so probably fold-out - BM print comes from it, so Scharf's comment may and more justifiably be based on (for example) the compressed single page re-engraving that appears in the 1818 edition. (There is an online sale image of one of those, but with a very long URL so look for yourself).

It is nonetheless clear that the small watercolour in the BM also attributed to Mazell faithfully copies the Waggoner original in showing a red, smoke-darkened sun, rising in the east whereas the Antiquaries copy converted that into a full moon reflected in the water of the river (see Scharf, p.39).

Is the Antiquaries copy still with them?
The Guidhall oil 'after Waggoner' is evidently another copy converted to a non-panoramic 'normal landscape' format, also 'moonlight' rather than 'red dawn' and probably either from Waggoner or the Antiquaries' copy. at very least, it is not from the compressed c.1818 Pennant engraving verssion that Scharf appears to be criticising.

Answering my own question, here is the Antiquaries painting (105 x 195.5 cm) reported as after Waggoner

and with this recent note pointing out how (unknown to Scharf) the moon replaced the sun in it:

'Conservation work in 2013 revealed the painting depicting two rather different scenes on top of one another: the sky had been repainted from day to night, the sun replaced with the moon. It is possible that the Romantic Movement’s new interest in moonlight prompted this revisioning.'

There are just two weeks left until Art Detective closes to further comments, of which 11 are Art UK working days, though I am working only six of them. It may be helpful to know that those days are 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 June. I will be on email for four weeks after that, until 26 July.

Thomas Ardill's recommendation (05/10/2021 17:56) was that this change to 'unknown artist' or 'unknown artist, after "Waggoner" '. 'More information' might add:

'While previously attributed to Daniel van Heil (1604-1664) he died two years before the event. The British Museum has a similar watercolour (1880,1113.1170) and print (1880,113.1169) copied after 1780 by Peter Mazell from a panoramic oil painting that was in the Painter-Stainers Company until destroyed in WWII. George Scharf, extensively discusses the Society of Antiquaries' oil copy also from the Painter-Stainers' original, but of conventional format, in his Antiquaries' catalogue of 1865. He reports the Painter-Stainers' oil as 1ft 11ins x 6ft 4ins and inventoried in 1724 as by an artist called 'Waggoner' (so possibly of Dutch origin as Waghenaer) but not otherwise known. The Mazell print and watercolour, and the Antiquaries copy, after overpaint was removed, show the Moon in the clouds at right (stained red in the Mazell drawing). That is also hinted at here, and in another oil copy 'after Waggoner c.1666-1685' purchased by the City of London collection in 1948 (no. 1379), though the basis for its artist terminus c.1685 is not clear. Although their reported prototype no longer exists, these images form a distinct group, unlike other near-contemporary ones of the Great Fire.'

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