Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Bay of Naples
Pencil, pen and grey-brown ink, grey-brown wash
  • image width 320mm,
  • image length 467mm
vertical crease down centre of paper
  • sheet, verso
  • “No.1 taken at Naples / Distance mont Lactarius of the antients / the Bay of Naples St Martini & Castle St Elmo / Francis Towne / Naples March 17th 1781”
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Bay of Naples
Bay of Naples
The Bay of Naples, after Francis Towne
Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the object


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP27). Judith Merivale sold it to Percy Moore Turner (1877–1950) in August 1932 for £8 8s. In December of the same year Turner gave the drawing to the present owners, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (no.1621).

Associated People & Organisations

Fitzwilliam Fitzwilliam Museum
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844)
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945)
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928)
Percy Moore Turner (1877 - 1950)
James White (1744 - 1825)
Exhibition History
Three Exeter Artists of the Eighteenth Century: Francis Hayman RA, Francis Towne, John White Abbott, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1951, no. 75
British Landscape Watercolours 1750-1850, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1994
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 129
Travels in Italy, ed. Francis W. Hawcroft (ed.), Whitworth Art Gallery: Manchester, 1988, p. 88
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 70


This view across the Bay of Naples shows the castle of St Elmo on the far right, the Carthusian monastery of St Martin just to its left (only its bell tower is visible, the rest obscured by trees), and the buildings of Naples itself in the bottom-left corner of the drawing. The viewpoint, in the vicinity of Capodimonte, is very similar to FT238, in which it is the castle of St Elmo that is is obscured by a tree, leaving the monastery of St Martin exposed to view. Towne also drew FT233 from much the same point as FT230.

The drawing is only the right-hand half of a composition that originally comprised two sheets. The left-hand portion is lost and has never been recorded. Judging, though, by the neat condition of the left-hand edge of this drawing, it does not seem ever to have been stuck to its other half or mounted for presentation to clients. Even so, it was clearly repeatedly on show, as Towne produced two later versions dated 1785 and 1796 (FT422, FT586); it is likely that a 1798 Bay of Naples was a further version (FT601a). White Abbott made a copy, on paper watermarked “J WHATMAN 1813” (FT814).

Oppé’s note reads: “27. Paper as (2) [FT225]. 12½ x 18¼ [318 x 464 mm] fold. / Fine outline, dark ind[ian] ink, repeated & blue water. no sky. hatching in ink. Pure Devonshire strengthened. No.1 taken at Naples etc etc.”1

There is a close similarity between the viewpoint of this drawing and Thomas Jones’s oil view of Naples and it is probable that Towne was recommended to the spot by Jones, if not actually taken there by him.2 John “Warwick” Smith also drew much the same view.3 In drawing this panoramic view across Naples, Towne was reflecting a shift in the depiction of Naples that took place in the latter half of the eighteenth century and saw high, sweeping viewpoints replace the quayside, city-centre scenes of the mid-century as the signature depictions of this Grand Tour destination. The growing taste for such views is indicated by Towne’s success in securing the two commissions; the artist’s awareness of the trend is suggested by his selection of the drawing as the opening view of his Naples series.


by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Paul Oppé records: notes, ca. 1915.
  2. 2 Thomas Jones, The Bay of Naples, 1782 (National Museums and Galleries of Wales at
  3. 3 W. Byrne after John “Warwick” Smith, The Bay of Naples, ca. 1796 (National Art Library).

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