- Museum number
Road and Villa near the Arco Oscuro, formerly part of an album; road in left foreground leading back into centre, red brick wall to left and trees and shrubs to right, villas in distance, one with arcaded top storey. 1781
Pen and grey ink and grey wash and watercolour
- Production date
Height: 227 millimetres
Width: 322 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,01.1-25
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
The following text is from K. Sloan, 'A Noble Art, amateur artists and drawing masters 1600-1800', BM, 2000, no. 135, p/ 193:
William Pars, who was Francis Towne's friend from his days as a student at Shipley's drawing school in London in the late 1750s, lived in Rome from 1775, painting in watercolours and oils and giving lessons to British Grand Tourists, including Charles Gore (cat.1260) and his daughters. He knew Sir William Hamilton in Naples, and copied old masters and painted portraits in oils for other patrons, and sketched with Thomas Jones, John 'Warwick' Smith, and from 1780 with Francis Towne. Pars died in Italy shortly after Towne returned to England. On 10 June 1809 the latter was given permission to make copies of three of Pars' Athenian watercolours in the Museum and the following decade Towne asked his executors to ensure his own Italian drawings were presented to the British Museum where they might join Pars' work. From the inscriptions on their works, it is clear that they sometimes sketched together, occasionally with the other artists mentioned above. Most artists in Rome at the time sketched directly from nature out of doors. Towne does not seem to have done preparatory sketches, but instead drew directly on the sheet for the final work, adding finishing touches and further colours back in his studio. Throughout his career he emphasised his reliance on nature by inscribing his drawings with the date and place, often including notes about the light and, almost as if it was part of his signature 'Drawn on the Spot by Francis Towne'.
Towne's colours and method of colouring changed through different periods of his career, lightening perceptibly in tone while he was in Italy; but the pen and ink outlines, emphasising the drawing itself, always remained the most essential element of his work. Where other artists used the brush and colours to build up elements of the composition or allowed the distance to fade away in brush and wash, he employed pen and ink outlines to give form to even the furthest mountains, imparting a crispness that no doubt appeared old fashioned to his contemporaries who valued chiaroscuro and atmosphere and consistently refused to elect him to the Academy. His reliance on outline drawing with pen and ink can be traced to examples of earlier Dutch and Flemish masters whose work he had studied and copied while a student in London at St Martin's Lane and Shipley's as well as in collections in Devon. If John White Abbott's early drawings can be taken as a typical example of Towne's teaching methods, then copying and studying old masters was also the foundation of his own teaching methods.
Born and educated in London, Towne first went to Exeter in 1763 as a coach painter, but soon recognized he could find regular employment there as a drawing master and continued to do so for the rest of his life, basing himself in London and exhibiting oils there but staying in Exeter for periods every year to earn a regular income from teaching (up to ,1,000 per year). He taught members of the Courtenay, Clifford, and Fulford families, painted view of their houses, and toured North Wales before travelling to Italy to further his career as a landscape painter which he considered to be his true profession; he was deeply offended and felt it was a negation of his life's work to be described as a 'provincial drawing master'.
Literature: Wilcox, passim
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
In May 1781 Towne returned to the Arco Oscuro area he had explored the previous autumn, making this view and undertaking further work on his earlier sketches. Watercolours of this view also exist by William Pars and Thomas Jones, who inscribed his 1777 sketch 'Near the Borghese Park'.
For other views near the Arco Oscuro by Towne see Nn,2.20, Nn,2.21, Nn,1.14, Nn,2.24 and Nn,2.23.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1981 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat.
2000 May-Sep, BM P&D, 'A Noble Art', no.135
2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- Laid down in original wash-lined mount.
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1972,U.630