Coalbrookdale by Night by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, 1801. Oil on canvas in gilt frame. Signed and dated bottom right. Exhibited as 'A View of Colebrook Dale by night' at the Royal Academy London in 1801. It shows the Bedlam furnaces at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, with flames and smoke billowing from the centre of the picture. The picturesque gorge landscape to either side is lit by moonlight, and figures hurry in the foreground to transport raw materials and iron pigs.
De Loutherbourg’s vivid nocturnal scene captures the dramatic tension at the heart of the Coalbrookdale site. The glowing furnaces sit at the centre of the picturesque Shropshire landscape, competing with the romantic moonlight. Male figures toil over the smelted iron – half heroes, half demons – watched by the woman and child, spectators from a threatened rural idyll. De Loutherbourg conjures the marvel of industry, but also the flames of hell, in a painting that is imbued with the spectacle that viewers knew from his work in the London theatres. The painting is based on sketches made on two tours from Shropshire to Wales in 1786 and 1800 observing industrial workings. These were bought by the artist JMW Turner, an avid fan of de Loutherbourg's works, and are now in the Tate collection.