Francis Towne (1739 or 1740 – 7 July 1816) was a British watercolour landscape painter and teacher, who spent his career between his native London and Exeter. Towne travelled to Italy in 1780-81, which was strongly formative for his style, perhaps as much for what he learned from other English watercolourists there as from the sights or Italian art. He also went on "study trips" to Wales and the Lake District. He was reasonably well known in his lifetime, though failing repeatedly to get elected to the Royal Academy, but soon became neglected after his death.
He remained an obscure figure until the early 20th century, so that the collector Paul Oppé was able to acquire numbers of important works very cheaply. Oppé was greatly impressed, especially with Towne's elegant and somewhat stylised early manner, which chimed with trends in English painting at the time, "the taste of our own century for flat colourful pattern-making", as Andrew Wilton put it in 1993. The writings of Oppé and others created a revival of interest in Towne, and more works began to appear on the market. By the 1950s he was widely recognised as an important figure and his works were owned by many museums, especially the British Museum and the Yale Center for British Art. A catalogue raisonné of the artist's work is published by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
The artist Francis Towne’s near abstract eighteenth-century watercolours of Swiss glaciers were to inspire Eric Ravilious more than a century ...