Exhibition catalogue text
25 A Study on the Spot at Tivoli 1781
Watercolour with pen and ink 398 x 513 (15 5/8 x 20 1/4)
Inscribed, lower right, May 1st | No 15
Inscribed on the verso of the artist's mount (watermarked 1804), Italy. A study on the spot at Tivoli. Francis Towne del. 1781. May 21st. Mounted June 1811.
Prov: Anon. sale, Foster's, 27 July 1910 (151), bt P.Opp?; by descent to 1996 when acquired by Tate Gallery (T08552).
Exh: Rome 1911, II (45), as Rocks and trees at Tivoli; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 1923; Vienna 1925 (258); BFAC 1929 (5); Royal Academy 1934 (626); Agnew's 1949 (17); Sheffield 1952 (64); Geneva and Z?rich 1955-6 (109); Norwich 1958 (12); Royal Academy 1958 (93); Amsterdam and Vienna 1965 (122); Royal Academy 1968 (668); Manchester 1988 (60). Lit: Opp? 1920, p.112; Hardie 1930, p.13; Binyon 1931, fig.23; Bury 1962, pp.80, 146, pl.XXX; Herrmann 1973, p.121.
Tate Gallery. Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996
Although Tivoli was primarily associated with Claude and Dughet, Towne uncovered a rich vein of material which related much more closely to the third member of the Trinity which dominated conceptions of Italian landscape, Salvator Rosa. Towne was apparently too scared by his experiences to spend much time among the rock-strewn tracks around Naples which Thomas Jones found so entrancing (see no.79), but he was able to find a substitute for Rosa's Neapolitan terrain in relative safety nearer to Rome. The shady pathways, thickly wooded hillsides and rocky outcrops around Tivoli occupied Towne in a series of studies all made on the heavy 'Roman' paper, which in their control and consistency give the impression of an artist completely at one with his subject.
This type of motif was of widespread interest at the time; among the older generation of landscape painters it was treated in a vivid small study by George Barrett the Elder who never travelled on the Continent (Eton College Collection), as well as by Alexander Cozens, in a study now in the Tate Gallery, also formerly in the Opp? Collection [T08199]. Before his departure Towne had surely seen the studies made by his close friend John Downman in 1774-5 at Ariccia and elsewhere in the vicinity (fig.24). Aside from the rocks Towne gave a further indication of what attracted him to this landscape in a lengthy description on the verso of his study numbered '16', made on 15 May, where he described the trees as olives (Christie's, 20 November 1984 (68)). The same stunted, twisted trunks appear in all this group, which also included At Tivoli, numbered '25' and dated 16 May, the same day as no. 27 (BM Nn2.31, repr., Bury 1962, pl.XXXIII), and yet another given the same title formerly in the White Abbott Collection (repr. Bury 1962, pl.XXXII, where the caption gives the owner incorrectly as RAMM).
The series forms an important demonstration of Towne's determination to represent this often idealised landscape in terms of highly specific examples. Some weeks later, in July, when he made an extended trip to the Alban Hills south of Rome, his approach was similar: numerically by far the largest group of drawings was made in the chestnut groves around Rocca di Papa (fig.25; the trees are identified by Towne on several of these drawings). Executed almost entirely in pen with monochrome wash, they show Towne at his most rapid and spontaneous in his notation of the deep contrasts of light and shade beneath the trees; the drawings made at Tivoli, though in the same spirit, are far more delicate and refined. Those who find Towne's penwork mechanical would do well to study no. 25, where the variety of calligraphic strokes describing the undergrowth is endlessly inventive.
Apart from one example, In a Wood of Olives at Tivoli, none of this work was included in the 1805 exhibition, and hardly any of the sheets were ever mounted by Towne himself; even by his standards he must have continued to regard them as experimental and not for general viewing.
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.72-4 no.25, reproduced in colour p.73