The Artist


The watercolours of Francis Towne, embellished with his distinctive pen outlines, are among the most admired in eighteenth-century British art. The progress of Towne’s career appears relatively conventional for a landscape artist of his generation: a tour of North Wales, a year in Italy, a summer excursion to the Lake District. Yet the art that he produced in these locations strayed far from the norms of the age, revealing an artist of strikingly independent mind. His particular choices of motif, his almost obsessive attention to the transformative power of light at different times of day, coupled with an acute self-awareness regarding his materials and methods, suggest more common ground with artists of the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries than the closing decades of the eighteenth.  Following his death in 1816, Towne was effectively forgotten for a hundred years. Having struggled to establish any professional presence as a painter in the eighteenth century, earning his living primarily as a drawing master in Exeter, he was reawakened into an age in which his idiosyncrasies were celebrated for the forward-looking explorations they undoubtedly were.