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Prints and Drawings (Room 90), Upper floor

Exhibitions of prints and drawings are changed several times a year because long exposure to light causes works on paper to fade and discolour.

Changing displays

Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome

21 January – 14 August 2016

2016 is the bicentenary of Francis Towne's death and his historic bequest to the British Museum of 75 uniquely beautiful watercolours made on his visit to Italy in 1780-1. To celebrate this generous gift the watercolours are all on display here, centred on 52 drawings of Rome that have not been shown together since 1805, including views of great monuments such as the Colosseum, Forum and the Palatine.

As a painter working in Exeter, away from the influential networks of the capital, Towne struggled to win the recognition of the London art establishment. Following repeated rebuffs from the Royal Academy, he decided to mount a retrospective exhibition to attract attention to his work in another way. The Italian views occupied pride of place in this exhibition and a century after their bequest to the British Museum, they caught the attention of early 20th century Modernist artists and scholars, who admired the drawings for their masterly clarity and abstraction. Following a well-deserved reassessment, Towne is now considered to be one of the greatest and most innovative of British watercolour artists.

More about this exhibition 

Detail, Francis Towne (1739–1816), The Temple of Vesta. Pen and black ink and watercolour with grey wash, 1781.


Oxtoby’s Rockers: Prints by David Oxtoby

25 January - early April 2016

David Oxtoby (born 1938) has devoted almost his entire career to portraying popular musicians and rock stars. Since the 1960s he has produced large scale paintings of many of his musical heroes such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry and David Bowie. In his work Oxtoby is not only able to capture a striking likeness of his sitters through meticulous observation, but also manages to convey a particular stance or pose which distils the essence of their stage performance.

Born in Yorkshire, Oxtoby studied at Bradford College of Art (1950-1957) where his fellow students included David Hockney. He later studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1960 to 1964. His paintings attracted much attention at the time and he had several successful one-man shows in London.

While recovering from a serious illness, Oxtoby took up etching on the advice of his friend, the artist Norman Stevens.  Thrilled with the immediate results, he went on to produce around forty prints in the space of nine months with the printers John Crossley and Jim Collyer of JC Editions. Later Oxtoby would go on to make more prints with Editions Alecto. 

In 2011 the artist presented the British Museum with a substantial gift of his prints.

 David Oxtoby, The King, 1976

David Oxtoby (b. 1938), The King 1976, portrait of Elvis Presley, 1977, colour etching and aquatint. 2011,7068.40


Permanent displays

Two works from the department are normally on display in the Museum:

Grayson Perry, 'Map of an Englishman' (detail) 
Michelangelo, Epifania


Other prints and drawings can be seen in the Study Room.