Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from Francis Towne

62 The Bay of Naples with Capri in the Distance 1786

Watercolour 407 x 613 (16 x 24 1/8)
Signed and dated 1786
Prov: John Lane; Meatyard, bt P.Opp? 1927; by descent to 1996, when acquired by Tate Gallery (T08195).
Exh: BFAC. 1929 (25); Agnew's 1949 (4); Exeter 1951 (38); Royal Academy 1958 (97).
Lit: Herrmann 1973, p.122.

Tate Gallery. Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

On his return from the Continent Towne found hardly more than a handful of patrons interested in commissioning replicas of his drawings. Occasionally these were in oil (such as the version of Ariccia executed for James Curtis in 1784, now in a private collection in San Francisco), but the majority were in watercolour. The subjects were scattered over the entire range of Towne's journey, but perhaps surprisingly there appeared to be less demand for his views of Rome, Tivoli and the Campagna than for Naples, the Italian Lakes or Switzerland. There, it is true, Towne faced less competition from the sets of prints by Continental and British artists which were increasingly available. Despite this he might reasonably have expected a greater degree of interest; 'Warwick' Smith was producing quantities of bright, small landscape views of Continental scenery (where the focus was predominantly on buildings, in town or country settings). Perennially popular, Smith was still oVering versions for sale at the Society of Painters in Water-Colours' exhibitions in the 1820s. Also attracting attention during the 1780s, but completely diVerent in virtually every other respect (except the volume of output), were the spacious, poetic productions of J.R.Cozens. Like Cozens, Towne's views were executed on a large scale, and there is evidence that they were framed and displayed, rather than kept in portfolios.

In his commissioned watercolours Towne adapted his handling, employing a light feathery touch, particularly in his works of the 1790s. He resorted only sparingly to the pen. Although this remained the hallmark of his sketching style, he obviously considered it inappropriate in works for display. To this extent Towne was aware of technical and stylistic trends in recent landscape painting. In the 1790s especially he was increasingly prepared to experiment, though more often than not with an embarrassing lack of success (witness the View in Hyde Park of 1797, Sotheby's, 11 November 1993 (102)).

Towne executed two versions of The Bay of Naples with Capri in the Distance, both based on an original drawing, numbered '13' (exh. Exeter 1951, no.37 repr.; currently unlocated). No.62, dated 1786, was the earlier. Another, dated 1789, is presumably the work ordered, according to Towne's note on the back of the drawing, by John Short in 1788, and supplied with a pair, a view of Pozzuoli (of which neither the initial study nor the later version are now known). The pair was sold at Sotheby's on 9 June 1937, and The Bay of Naples alone reappeared more recently at Christie's on 17 November 1981 (107).

Published in:
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.132-3 no.62, reproduced in colour p.132