- Museum number
Near Naples, formerly part of an album; view on the side of valley looking to hill on r, with Bay beyond, peasants under trees in left foreground. 1781
Pen and black ink and watercolour; laid down on original mount
- Production date
Height: 320 millimetres
Width: 468 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- From album NN,03.1-17
See Nn,1.1 for information about the Towne albums as a whole.
T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997
For the drawings that he made in Naples Towne opened a new chapter in his sequence of numbered sheets. 'No 1', a general view of part of the Bay of Naples was dated 17 March (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), followed on the 18th by the view of the Grotto of Posillipo numbered 2 (BM Nn3.12) and also a drawing including Vesuvius, numbered 3. The highest number inscribed on a Naples subject was 21 (BP 34; undated), but less than half this amount can be identified today, leaving a rather incomplete account of Towne's exploration of this celebrated landscape.
Thomas Jones's record of the arrival of Towne in Naples is dated 8 March and was the first entry in his diary since the departure of Pars on 15 November the previous year. It was obviously a significant event, but this should not discount the possibility that Jones, making the entry retrospectively, misremembered the date, or that it was later mistranscribed. If Towne's arrival in Naples was nearer in date to the day he made his first numbered drawing, that is, 17 March, his stay in the area could have lasted only a little over two weeks. The latest dated drawing is 'No 15', inscribed 31 March; Jones records that Towne returned to Rome on 3 April (Jones 1951, p.103).
Jones placed himself entirely at Towne's disposal and seems to have appreciated the opportunity of acting as guide to a visitor who, like himself, was a landscape painter. Towne's independence of outlook met with an enthusiastic response from Jones, who evidently took pride in being able to "conduct him to many picturesque scenes of my Own discovery, entirely out of the common road of occasional Visiters, either Cavaliers or Artists, from Rome" (Jones 1951, p. 102). Chief among these must have been the road to Santa Maria a' Monte, one of Jones's favourite haunts (see T. Wilcox, Francis Towne, London 1997, cat. no. 79). For the rest of his stay Towne worked mainly on the outskirts of the city, just as he had chosen to do during his first weeks in Rome. The Bay of Naples, if seen at all, is usually of secondary interest. In this view it is reduced to a mere speck of blue in the distance, though the conspicuous highlights on the hilltop monastery of S. Martino clearly signal Naples to anyone remotely familiar with the topography. In another view now in Birmingham it is the conical shape of Vesuvius which locates the scene otherwise more remarkable for its stark simplification of the landscape formula into a mere two planes, foreground and background (inscribed "No 10 Naples March 24 1781"; the same date is also inscribed on a second watercolour of the Grotto of Posillipo numbered "9", now YCBA).
Rigidly direct where the first view was full of intricate subtleties, 'Near Naples' was none the less coloured with sympathetic and painterly brushwork, in a brilliantly accomplished transition from the pale, hot road to the deep cool shadows of the over-arching pine. Where the English traveller might have expected this bay to offer an ideal, hospitable climate, Towne presented it here as one of extremes.
The following introduction was written by Richard Stephens for the 'Beyond Rome: Excursions to Naples and Tivoli' section of the Towne exhibition in 2016:
Towne left Rome in March 1781 to spend a month in Naples with the Welsh landscape painter Thomas Jones. On his return, most of Towne's energy in the four months remaining before his departure back to England was concentrated on the countryside. In fact, after leaving Rome in early March, the impression is that Towne was not keen to return to city life - preferring to immerse himself in countryside that was, in Jones's phrase, 'formed in a peculiar manner by Nature for the Study of the Landscape Painter.' It was a very productive period: Towne made as many drawings in Tivoli, Frascati and other the hill towns and lakes around Albano in under three months as he had made in Rome in twice as long a period. Most of these, though, remained as grey wash sketches.
In later years, Towne began to sort through and revise his Italian sketches, adding colour to trees and skies, bringing new incident into foreground spaces, placing the watercolours onto stiff mounts and re-inscribing them. Several of the watercolours displayed here exhibit such changes. Having already bequeathed his views of Rome to the British Museum in 1816, two years later Towne's executor, James White, offered the museum a further selection of 17 watercolours, chiefly of Naples, Tivoli and Albano.
The following label was written by Richard Stephens for the Towne exhibition in 2016:
This is a view near Capodimonte with the Bay of Naples in the far distance. As in Rome, Towne showed little interest in the modern city of Naples, though it was a major centre of culture and tourism. With guidance from his fellow artist Thomas Jones who was resident in the city, Towne selected rural scenes for his watercolours, often looking down across the Bay of Naples from a hillside position.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1936 BM 'Canaletto to Constable', no no.
1955 Jan-Feb, Norwich Castle Museum, 'A Selection of English Watercolours (c.1750-c.1820)', no.11
1982 BM P&D, 'Francis Towne and John 'Warwick Smith', no cat.
1990 May-Jul, Naples, Castel Sant'Elmo, Vesuvius, no cat.
1990 Oct-Nov, London, Accademia Ital, Vesuvius, no cat. no. (p.133)
1997 June-Sept, London, Tate Gallery, Francis Towne
1997/1998 Oct-Jan, Leeds CAG, Francis Towne
2016 Jan-Aug, BM, 'Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne's watercolours of Rome' (no catalogue)
- Laid down on 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 James White and J. H.Merivale, 1818
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1972,U.735