- Museum number
In the Villa Barberini, formerly part of an album; distant statue on a pedestal visible to right among trees. 1781
Brush drawing in grey and brown wash and watercolour, with grey ink, some gum arabic
- Production date
Height: 356 millimetres
Width: 267 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,01.1-25.
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
Probably no.146 or 147 in Towne's exhibition in 1805.
T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
In the autumn of 1780 Towne skirted around the walls of several of Rome's grandest gardens but did not venture inside, at least to find subjects for his work. Only in high summer, when the dense foliage of mature groves of trees provided shade from the intense sunlight, did he return. As well as making two studies in the gardens of the Villa Barberini, he also painted at the Villa Mondragone at Frascati (see Nn1.25) and at the Villa Mellini on its hilltop site on the outskirts of Rome ('No. 59', dated 20 July 1781; sold, Sotheby's, 21 November 1985). In September 1781 J. P. Hackert was to take up residence there and painted its celebrated view of Rome "d'après Nature" (Nordhoff and Reimer 1994, no. 159; the large gouache, previously in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, was destroyed in 1945; an engraving of the view was made by Hackert's brother George the same year and dedicated to Pope Pius VI). John 'Warwick' Smith (in a watercolour of 1806, presumably based on a drawing of c.1780-1, Tate Gallery, T01018) and J. R. Cozens also paid homage to this grand vista ('Rome from the Villa Mellini', Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, exh. Brisbane 1982, no. 28). Towne's typically individual response to the Villa Mellini, as to the other gardens he visited, was to concentrate on the more intimate drama of light and shade created by an alley of trees. In the Villa Barberini he did at least show an awareness of the main attraction the gardens presented to the average tourist, in the magnificent collection of classical statuary, gathered not only from the city of Rome itself but from the surrounding Campagna and as far afield as Naples. This was always the main focus of attention of the guide books, as it was in the various Roman gardens painted by Louis Ducros around this time and issued as prints from 1782 (Kenwood 1985, nos. 11-17).
The English sense of superiority towards the formality of Italian gardening was stated at the outset of Mason's influential poem'The English Garden', where the "blest youths" making the Grand Tour were advised that even among the villas of antique Rome could not be looked on as a model, still less the modern city:
"hope not then to find In slavish superstitious Rome the fair Remains"
William Chambers, in his 'Dissertation on Oriental Gardening', condemned all Continental gardens out of hand, whether French, Dutch or Italian; in England 'this antient style is held in detestation' (1772, p.v).
Most of the English artists in Rome were in sympathy with these opinions. J. R. Cozens painted the rambling pathways of the Villa Farnese gardens on the Palatine where the fragments of classical sculpture, far from being arranged for display, seemed to emerge from the ground as if they themselves were part of nature (the image was taken from a sketch made by his father in 1746; see Sloan 1986, p. 15). Cozens also drew in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphili and the Villa Negroni. One great clump of pine trees in the Villa Negroni had earlier caught the attention of Richard Cooper (1740-1814) and was included among his set of large aquatints of the city published on his return to London in 1779-80, some of the first by an Englishman to penetrate beyond plain topography. In all of these images nature, rather than culture, predominated. Something of a different attitude, less partial at least, is hinted at in the sketchbooks of Thomas Jones; his drawings do include the fountains and statues at the Villa Borghese, yet in a rare oil sketch of the gardens it was again the vegetation which was his chief concern (YCBA, New Haven 1981, no.81).
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
After returning from Naples at the start of April, Towne did not remain constantly in Rome, but made several visits to Tivoli. He was sketching there on 22 May, but Towne evidently returned to Rome in time to make this evening view on 22 May, according to an inscription on the mount which he later scratched out.
Towne has enhanced much of the surface with gum arabic. This plant extract was frequently mixed with watercolour pigments which, when applied to paper, produced a slightly glossy surface and added depth and lustre to colours.
For further information see curator's comment Nn,1.23.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1934 BM, P&D Gallery, Exhibition of English Art, no.420
1997 June-Sept London, Tate Gallery, Francis Towne
1997/8 Oct-Jan Leeds CAG, Francis Towne
2014 Apr-Jun, Rome, Fondazione Roma Arte-Musei, Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner: British Painting and the Rise of Modernity
2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- Laid down in artist's original hand drawn mount.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
Donated, in accordance with the artist's wishes, by his executor, James White, and "with the concurrence of J. H. Merivale" 1816
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1972,U.531