Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Grotto of Posillipo
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour
  • image width 322mm,
  • image length 472mm
mounted on paper watermarked "WHATMAN 1804"
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “No.2 / F.Towne / delt 1781 [“1781” over scratched-out inscription]”
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.2 / Naples / Grotto of Posilipio drawn / by / Francis Towne / 1781. [“1781” over scratched-out inscription]”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the object


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), who gave it in 1818 to the present owner, the British Museum, London (Nn.3.12).

Associated People & Organisations

British Museum
James White (1744 - 1825)
Exhibition History
[?] Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 190
unidentified exhibition, British Museum, 1981
Travels in Italy 1776-1783 based on the Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1988, no. 134
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, p. 127
Martin Hardie, Water-Colour Painting in Britain, ed. Dudley Snelgrove, London: B. T. Batsford, 1966, p. 120
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 90


Towne visited the Grotto, a Roman tunnel, in the company of Thomas Jones on 24 March 17811 and chose a viewpoint also adopted by William Pars, John “Warwick” Smith, and Jones himself.2 Two other drawings by Towne, dated 24 March, appear to have been made near Posillipo (FT236, FT237).

The drawing is one that has obviously been worked on long after the Italian journey itself, but less extensively than other drawings in the Naples and Rome series. The figures, for example, compare with examples in the late sketchbooks. Towne has also tidied up the foreground, bringing the scene right to the edge of the paper and resolving details left incomplete in 1781. He has laid neat new washes of shadow up and down the far right edge of the drawing, on the monument on the left, and elsewhere, and—probably—added the foreground rock cluster at bottom left. Pen work likely to have been done later includes the lines indicating the road, which reach out from the distant grotto into the right-hand foreground corner of the work.

See also FT236.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Jones 2003.
  2. 2 William Pars, The Grotto of Posillipo, ca. 1776–82 (Hawcroft 1988); B. T. Pouncey after John “Warwick” Smith, The Grotto of Posillipo, ca. 1796 (National Art Library); Thomas Jones, The Grotto of Posillipo, 1782 (Sumner & Smith 2003).

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