Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • 1759 Society of Arts Premium Drawing
ca. 1759
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Society of Arts records
Associated People & Organisations

Royal Society of Arts, records
William Bailey, One hundred and six Copper Plates of Mechanical Machines, and Implements of Husbandry: London, 1782, p. 204
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 20
Robert Dossie, Memoirs of Agriculture, and other Oeconomical Arts: London, 1768, p. 416
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, pp. 96-97
Society of Arts, A Register of the Premiums and Bounties given by the Society...: London, 1778, p. 35
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 30


Although Towne began his artistic training aged about thirteen or fourteen, the first documented work is his winning entry for the 1759 Society of Arts competition for young artists, category 67, for “an original design for Cabinet makers, Coachmakers, manufacturers in Metals, China and Earthenware”. The category was discontinued after 1759. Towne was awarded the first premium on 14 February by a large and eminent examining committee comprising Reynolds, Highmore, Hollis, Kirby, Choore, Stuart, Pine, P. Theobold, Dalton, Paine, Wilton, Batchelor, Hayman, G. Mathias, Hayward, Duane, Shackleton, Chambers, W. Stevens, J. Smith, Birch, Lowth, Goodchild, Eckorsdale, R. Wilson, J. S. Wilkes, Ramsay, Rogers, Fanquise, Dupont, Long, Bellers, Anderson, Pinchbeck, R. Warner, Major, McArdel, W. Lloyd, Mellish, Spang, and Cooper Jnr.1 The value of Towne’s prize is uncertain. Wilcox states 15 guineas,2 but the Society of Arts’s Minute Book gives 21 guineas, of which Towne, as the main prizewinner, received the largest part. Robert Dossie, writing in 1784, states that Towne received “1st sh.” of 15 guineas,3 but Bailey in 1782 stated that the total premium was £21, of which Towne received 6 guineas.4 A Society of Arts publication of 1778 gave Towne’s share as 5 guineas.5 As valuable as the money was, the greater prize was the attention and kudos. The circumstances in which Towne’s drawing was exhibited in 1759 are unclear, but the following year the premium drawings were put on display in the Society of Arts meeting room at the Society’s own expense.

In his autobiographical letter of 1803 Towne recollected this work as a landscape, according it a pivotal status in his early professional life: “At fourteen years of age I began to paint in oil, before I was twenty I had the premium for the best drawing of landscape, at the Arts and Sciences, after that I set out in the great World.” Among Towne’s fellow competitors for Society of Arts prizes in 1759 were William Pars and Richard Cosway, whose friendships with Towne may date from this time. The winners of Society of Arts premiums were announced in the London press.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Royal Society of Arts, London, Minute Book, vol.3, fol.127.
  2. 2 Wilcox 1997, p.30.
  3. 3 Dossie 1784, p.416.
  4. 4 Bailey 1782, p.204.
  5. 5 Society of Arts 1778, p.35.

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