Artist biography

English painter. He began to paint in oils at the age of 14. In the late 1750s he returned to Exeter and set up as a drawing-master.

By the 1770s Towne was firmly established in Exeter as a painter of landscapes and country houses.

In autumn 1780 Towne travelled to Rome via Geneva. The clarity of his watercolour style was especially suited to depictions of Roman architecture. He made many watercolours out of doors, carefully noting time and light conditions, and these became the basis for studio repetitions. Towne's response to Sublime landscape is apparent in bold watercolours such as the Vale of St John Looking towards Keswick (Leeds, C.A.G.). His appreciation of nature on a more intimate scale can be seen in his studies of trees, delineating the intricacy of branches dappled in sunlight, as in the Fir Tree (priv. col).

He moved to London, marrying Jeannette Hilligsberg, a dancer, but she died the following year. In 1809 he toured Devon and Cornwall. A frugal man, Towne left nearly £3,000 at his death and bequeathed three albums of his Italian watercolours to the British Museum. Towne created a powerful and idiosyncratic style but, as a Devon-based painter, he had little influence on the London artistic mainstream and was largely forgotten until rediscovered by A. P. Oppé in the 1930s. At that period his spare, geometric work was hailed as revolutionary for its time.

W. Jones: Francis Towne, Landscape Painter (Exeter, 1890)
A. P. Oppé: ‘Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', Walpole Soc., viii (1919–20), pp. 95–126
Francis Towne (exh. cat., London, Burlington F.A. Club, 1929–30)
A. Bury: Francis Towne: Lone Star of Water-colour Painting (London, 1962)
M. Hardie: The Eighteenth Century (1966), i of Watercolour Painting in Britain (London, 1965–9)
English Landscape, 1630–1850 (exh. cat., ed. C. White; New Haven, CT, Yale Cent. Brit. A., 1971), pp. 29–30
Paintings and Drawings by Francis Towne and John White Abbott (exh. cat., Exeter, Royal Albert Mem. Mus. & A.G., 1971)
British Landscape Watercolours, 1600–1860 (exh. cat., ed. L. Stainton; London, BM, 1985), pp. 27–9


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