Francis Towne’s Rome, 1780-1

Born in 1739 to a London grain merchant, apprenticed to a coach painter, interested in landscape painting, Francis Towne went to Rome in 1780, painted 52 watercolours of its sights and monuments, sold none of them, applied 11 times to join the Royal Academy, failed each time, died in 1816, disappeared from art history, his paintings dispersed. Laura Cumming summarises his life as a pointer to the first complete exhibition of those watercolours since 1805, Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne’s Watercolours of Rome at the British Museum (21 Jan – 14 Aug 2016).

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