Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


38 Villeneuve-l?s-Avignon c.1766-85

Watercolour over pencil with pen and brown ink on laid paper 25.6 x 37.5 (10 1/8 x 14 3/4); artist's washline border 28.3 x 40.3 (11 1/8 x 15 7/8)
Inscribed lower right in pen and brown ink 'W Marlow'


In the 1750s William Marlow was apprenticed for five years to the painter of marine views and graceful London topography Samuel Scott (see no.9), and today is best known for his views of London painted very much in Scott's manner. However, the many landscapes of French and Italian subjects which Marlow made following a tour to the Continent between 1765 and 1766 - and which he exhibited in substantial numbers at the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy - contributed equally to his contemporary reputation and commercial success. Indeed, the fact that certain compositions by him are known in numerous, near-identical versions, especially views of Lyons and Villeneuve-l?s-Avignon, is evidence of Marlow's popularity as a painter of 'souvenir' pictures for those who had made the grand tour (Liversidge 1980, pp.549-50).

Some travellers at this period, Downman and Wright of Derby (nos.29 and 54-5), for example, chose to make the voyage to Italy by sea, but the majority seem to have selected a route overland. One of these routes took the traveller southwards through France, via Paris and the S?one and Rh?ne valleys, and this was clearly the one which Marlow himself followed, judging by the various sketches by him which have survived from his tour. An album containing some of his Italian and French sketches, now partly dismembered, is in the Opp? collection [T09157-T09187] and includes a pencil study (fig.17) for this watercolour. The study is a careful topographical record of Villeneuve-l?s-Avignon, seen across the river Rh?ne from the Ile de la Barthelasse - the island situated in the middle of the Rh?ne which, together with the river itself, separates Villeneuve from its older, sister town of Avignon to the south-east. The watercolour, by contrast, is more elaborate and includes one of Marlow's characteristic knotty and twisted trees (very broadly indicated in the preliminary drawing), as well as figures participating in the life of the river - the sort of differences, in short, one would expect between an original study and a finished composition.

The reverse of Marlow's preliminary drawing describes the religious foundation in the distance of this view as an Augustine convent, but in fact the artist depicts the Benedictine abbey of St Andr?, incorporated within the fort of the same name and largely demolished during the French Revolution. Both drawing and watercolour include two of the ruined piers of the medieval bridge of St Ben?z?t, the famous 'Pont d'Avignon' (immortalised in the song 'Sur le Pont d'Avignon') which once crossed the Ile de la Barthelasse thus linking the two towns, but of which only the four eastern arches remain today. The bridge is the subject of another watercolour by Marlow in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (Nugent 1993, no.52), which is also based on a pencil drawing in the Opp? album (T09164).

From 1775 Marlow rented a property at Twickenham, moving there permanently in semi-retirement ten years later. For over thirty years he shared a house with the Curtis family and their six or seven children, some of whom Farington recorded looked 'very like Marlow' (Diary, 23 June 1808, vol.9, p.3302). It was presumably Marlow's financial obligations towards the Curtis family which necessitated his sometimes resuming work during this period, and in 1795 he produced a set of six etchings, Views in Italy, which were issued by John Curtis from Twickenham - though by this date Marlow's work (and that featuring grand tour sites in general) was no longer fashionable (Liversidge 1980, pp.549-50). In later life Marlow turned to making 'Telescopes & other Articles' (Farington, Diary, 10 February 1813, vol.12, p.4297), and is also said to have designed the seals for the original thirteen United States of America (Howgego 1956, p.5).

Anne Lyles

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.112 no.38, reproduced in colour p.113