Sections

England, 1781 to ca. 1805

Richard Stephens

Apart from the Lake District works of 1786, very few drawings survive from the latter half of Towne’s career, between his return from Italy in 1781 and his retirement ca. 1803–8. Works are especially thin from 1787 onwards. Even so, the broad pattern of Towne’s activities is fairly clear. In the 1780s he resumed his practice as a drawing master, at the same time enjoying a steady income from oil pictures and watercolours he painted for the Devon gentry, based mostly on sketches he had made in Italy. At the end of the 1780s these commissions began to dwindle, although, as his tuition business continued to flourish, Towne prospered throughout the 1790s and he was able to retire comfortably. As he approached his fiftieth birthday—and coinciding with the apparent decline in commissioned work—Towne tried to supplement his growing affluence by seeking more widespread recognition for his achievements. Between 1788 and 1803 he bid repeatedly for election as an associate member of the Royal Academy, even though he had all but ignored the organisation over the previous twenty years. He failed, gave up his professional ambitions, and prepared for retirement. In his final years, though, Towne was still preoccupied with the fate of his work and with his reputation; he revisited his old drawings, sorting, tidying, and modifying many, and made detailed plans for them after his death. An important early step in the preparation of Towne’s work, and a last, loud, declaration of his accomplishments to the London art world, was the retrospective exhibition he organised in 1805, at which he displayed almost two hundred key examples of his thirty years’ creative work in Wales, Devon, the Lake District, Italy, and Switzerland.

London Exhibits, 1788-1803

1788

Royal Academy

171 "View in the Grisons near the source of the Rhine" (probably FT646)
 

Towne's exhibit was hung in the Main Room. The catalogue gave his address as "No.78, St.James's-Street". His exhibit is not marked for sale. A newspaper called this "A difficult Subject, but well handled and highly finished."1

 

1789

Royal Academy

123 "View, taken near Martinach in Switzerland" in the Main Room (FT557, lost but known through a print published by Towne FT812)
184 "View taken on the Lake of Como" in the Main Room (FT557b, now lost)
 

Towne's exhibits were hung in the Main Room. The catalogue gave his address as "at Mr.Downman's, No.5, Leicester-square" and the exhibits were not marked for sale. A newspaper reviewer gave Towne's work an oblique mention: "We should fatigue our Readers, if in this manner we were to remark on the productions of Freebairn, Hearne, Dominick, and J.Serres, Tresham, Ibbetson, Town, &c. &c."2

 

 

1792

Royal Academy

197 "A view on the banks of the Tyber, at Rome" in the Main Room (FT572, in a private collection)
 

Towne's address was given as "No.5, Leicester-square" and the exhibit not marked for sale in the catalogue. John Herman Merivale, then aged 14, wrote to his father on 4 May 1792 to describe his visit to the Academy's exhibition: "There were several very fine landscapes, among them one of Mr.Towne's."3 Much later, Merivale inherited the painting as Towne's residuary legatee.

 

1793

Royal Academy

214 "A view in Neptune's grotto of the Sybil's temple at Tivoli" in the Main Room (FT574, now lost)
 

The catalogue again gave Towne's address as "No.5 Leicester Square" and did not mark Towne's exhibit as being available for sale.

 

1794

Royal Academy

295 "A view of St. Peter's at Rome" in the Anti Room (FT575, now lost)
 

The catalogue again gave Towne's address as "No.5 Leicester Square" and did not mark Towne's exhibit as being available for sale.

 

1796

Royal Academy

284 "A landscape" in the Main Room (FT576, now lost)
 

The catalogue gave Towne's address as "Exeter"; the exhibit was not marked for sale. Anthony Pasquin noticed Towne's exhibit and, in a double-edged comment about colouring: "284 - A Landscape. F.TOWNE. This gentleman is similar in his pencilling to Mr. Abbott and, like him, too tender in his tones, but especially for a multifarious exhibition. Mr. WESTALL'S drawings appear to more advantage in the Exhibition than they do out, which is derived from their gaudiness of tinting. There is nothing more certain, than that a picture chastely coloured may be ruined in character by being placed next to a glaring composition in such an assemblage. We think if Mr. Towne used a camera occasionally he would correct his present manner of colouring."4

 

1797

Royal Academy

615 "A view of Mynydd Mawr fall, in North Wales" in the Antique Academy (probably FT590)
 

Towne's address was given as "Exeter" and the exhibit not marked for sale. One newspaper named Towne's work in passing, in the following terms: “LA POETE [sic] has two Landscapes, well coloured and painted. Mr.DASHWOOD’S Italian Picture has considerable merit. IBBETSON’S Views are in his usual beautiful style. ROOKER, TOWNE, &c. have furnished several pretty Landscapes, which we have contemplated with pleasure; but which we cannot criticise or describe.5

 

1798

Royal Academy

555 "The fall of the Cayne, North Wales" in the Antique Academy (FT598, now lost)

"Exeter"; Towne's exhibit is not marked for sale.

 

1800

Royal Academy

169 "View at Rome: Afternoon" in the Main Room (FT616, in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter)
211 "View at Tivoli: Morning" in the Main Room (FT617, in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter)
 

The catalogue gave Towne's address as "30, Wigmore-street, Cavendish-square" and the exhibits were not marked for sale.

 

1803

Royal Academy

677 "View of the passage over mount Splugen, in the Alps" in the Library (FT627a, now lost)
 

The catalogue again gave Towne's address as "30, Wigmore-street, Cavendish-square" and the exhibit was not marked for sale.

About the author

  • Richard Stephens is an independent art historian. He was awarded a PhD at Birkbeck College, London, for his thesis, A Catalogue Raisonné of The Works of Francis Towne, on which his Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Towne (1739–1816) is based. In 2016 he curated the exhibition Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome at the British Museum, London. He edits The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735, published by the University of York.

Footnotes

  1. 1 The St.James Chronicle; or British Evening Post 10 May 1788.
  2. 2 The St.James's Chronicle; or British Evening Post, Tuesday 12 May 1789, p.4
  3. 3 Transcript at Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Towne files.
  4. 4 Anthony Pasquin, A Critical Guide to the Royal Academy for 1796
  5. 5 St James’s Chronicle, 20 May 1797

Imprint

Imprint
Article title
England, 1781 to ca. 1805
Author
Richard Stephens
Date
13/01/2016
Article DOI
https://doi.org/10.17658/towne/s3
Cite as
Richard Stephens, "England, 1781 to ca. 1805", A Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Towne (1739-1816), (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016), https://doi.org/10.17658/towne/s3

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