Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Cascade of Terni
  • The Falls of Terni
1781 - 1799
Pencil, pen and grey and brown inks, watercolour with gum, scratching out
  • image width 838mm,
  • image length 527mm
six sheets
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “F Towne / delt. 1799’”
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “The Cascade of Terney / Italy / drawn on the Spot by / Francis Towne / 1781”
  • the inscription is now detached from the original mount
Object Type


Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Wilcox 1997 (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), by whom given in 1818 to the present owner, the British Museum, London (Nn,3.17).

Associated People & Organisations

British Museum, London, 1818, Nn,3.17
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
unidentified exhibition, British Museum, 1981
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 65
Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome, British Museum, 2016
Laurence Binyon, Catalogue of Drawings by British Artists and Artists of Foreign Origin Working in Great Britain Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Trustees of the British Museum: London, 1907, p. 203
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 95, 128
Winslow Jones, 'Francis Towne Landscape Painter', Notes and Gleanings: a monthly magazine devoted chiefly to subjects connected with the counties of Devon and Cornwall, ed. William Cotton (ed.), No. 26: Exeter, 1890, p. 18


The waterfall at Terni was one of the best-known sites of Italy outside Rome and Naples, about thirteen miles north-east of Narni. Towne and John “Warwick” Smith saw it on their way north towards the lakes of Lombardy.

Towne depicted it from the standard viewpoint, used also by Jacob Philipp Hackert1 and “Warwick” Smith—a view made, presumably, on the same occasion that Towne drew his. In Select Views Smith described the falls thus:

This cascade is formed by the fall of the river Velino into the Nera. The channel of the former lies very high, and passes through a thick forest, of various kinds of trees, that preserve their verdure all the year. The stream is extremely rapid before its fall, and at once rushes down a precipice of three hundred feet high, into a large hollow, or bason, probably so formed by such a constant fall of water: the bottom on which it breaks is impossible to see, for the thickness of the mist that rises from it, and which looks at a distance like clouds of smoke ascending from some vast furnace. This vapour is all occasioned by the violence of the first fall; after this it forms a second, and a third fall, and then, uniting with the Nera, it rolls boiling and foaming for a considerable distance down the valley. Addison was of the opinion, that this is the gulph through which Virgil’s Alecto shoots herself into hell. The fall of the waters, the woods that surround them, the smoak and noise that accompany the whole, all serve to strengthen this idea; and all are pointed at in Virgil’s description.2

Unusually for Towne (although not uniquely—see FT601), the drawing is signed twice recto, indicating the length of time between the initial sketch and its completion. The heavy shading in the mid- and foregrounds and the highly worked-up waves are signs that it was amended in the late 1790s.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Carlo Antonini after Jacob Philipp Hackert, Cascade at Tivoli, ca. 1779 (Chiarini 1994).
  2. 2 Smith 1792, vol.1, note to pl.16.

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