- Museum number
Bridge over the Rhone at Geneva, formerly part of an album; horses and cart in left foreground, having crossed bridge on r, tall houses on right riverbank. 1780
Watercolour with pen and ink
- Production date
Height: 210 millimetres
Width: 272 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,02.1-32
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
Watermark: Golding and Snelgrove 1815, see MSS Catalogue cc.7.11.
T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
There is a second drawing of Geneva in the British Museum, numbered "2" and dated on the mount "Septr 7th 1780" (BM Nn2.02). Apart from this the only other drawing from Towne's outward journey to Italy is a view of Aiguebelle, ninety miles south of Geneva, dated "Septr 4th 1800" and numbered "48". The works are all on sheets of the same size, with evidence of stitching at the left margin, indicating they were removed from a bound sketchbook. Further pages of the same size were employed for some of his first drawings in Rome (BM Nn2.03 and 04). In the seven days between the Geneva and Aiguebelle drawings Towne would have had ample time to see more of the city and its surroundings, but if there were more sketches (as the "48" on the Aiguebelle might imply), he seems not to have regarded them as worthy of preservation.
When he returned to Geneva just over a year later, Towne responded to the place in a completely different way. In 1780 he was very conscious of himself as a traveller. The spot he selected was at the hub of the city, a scene full of movement and purpose. The tall buildings embodied Geneva's commercial wealth and ability to thrive in an extreme climate; with the river flowed much more than water to the world beyond.
The contrast with the drawings of 1781 could not be more absolute. The focus on human activity was replaced by a completely new sense of scale. The mountains viewed in 1780 as a distant backdrop were to become the main subject, buildings no more than a speck. Above all Towne was to transcend the emotions of nervous excitement generated by the sublime scenery to achieve instead a perfect sense of calm.
The following introduction was written by Richard Stephens for the 'Arrival in Rome: Autumn 1780' section of the Towne exhibition in 2016:
Towne left England in August 1780 and travelled through France to reach Geneva by 7 September. The journey southwards was not simply an unavoidable period of travel, but an integral part of an artist's continental tour. Though it was a period of lively artistic production, among more than fifty drawings Towne made in these weeks, only three survive - including the two Geneva watercolours here.
Rather than beginning with an exploration of the city's famous monuments, Towne's focus on reaching Rome in early October was the countryside north of the city. Initially he treated his subjects with delicacy and reserve, but this gradually gave way to bolder and more incisive compositions. Towne's greater creative engagement with the Roman landscape towards the end of 1780 is also signalled by his starting to draw on a much larger scale.
In Rome, Towne joined a small community of expatriate landscape painters which included his old friend William Pars (1742-1782) and John 'Warwick' Smith (1749-1831) whose knowledge of Rome and its countryside informed Towne's work.
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
Towne visited Italy in 1780-1 but continued to review and develop his watercolours throughout his life. A crucial stage in this process came when he glued them onto the stiff cards - called mounts - on which they are still presented today. At this point Towne frequently made alterations to the images themselves, and wrote lengthy inscriptions on the back of the mount. On the mount of this view, taken from Towne's Geneva inn, Les Balances d'Or, he wrote: 'No1 A View taken at Geneva where the Rhone comes from the Lake under the Bridge /drawn on the Spot by Francis Towne 1780/ evening sun from the left Hand".
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1990 Jul-Nov, Grasmere, Dove Cottage, Wordsworth and the Alps, no cat.
1997 June-Sept, London, Tate Gallery, Francis Towne
2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The portfolio Nn,2 contained 32 drawings by Francis Towne. In his report to the Trustees dated 9 November Taylor Combe (Alexander having recently died and J T Smith not yet in post) reported that the executors of Francis Towne had delivered two portfolios with 60 [sic] drawings by Towne. On 7 February J T Smith reported that he had been working on the Towne drawings 'given by Mr White of Exeter'. These must be the drawings placed in Nn,1 and 2.
The other drawings by Towne were placed in Nn,3 (see comment on Nn,3.1).
See T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997: the drawings were 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.599