Villa Grazioli, Tivoli near Rome, Italy
Guy Peppiatt Fine Art Ltd
John Herman Merivale (1779-1844);
By descent to Judith Ann Merivale (1860-1945), Oxford, by 1915;
By whom sold to Agnew's, 28th January 1937 for £30;
With Agnew's, by whom sold to Professor John Malins (1915-1992), 24th June 1940;
By descent until 2018
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne – Lone Star of Watercolour Painting, 1962, p.150;
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, 1997, p.86;
Richard Stephens, Francis Towne – Online Catalogue, no. FT287
Possibly London, Agnew’s, Sixty-seventh Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour and Pencil Drawings, 1940, no. 133 (as `Frascati 1781′)</p
As Tim Wilcox notes the area around Frascati had long been popular with artists seeking inspiration; Poussin, Claude and Gaspard Doughet, were amongst a host of earlier artists who spent time there and Towne was amongst the group of British artists, including Pars, Cozens, Jones and Warwick Smith who sought to understand and appreciate the countryside which has so inspired the earlier masters. In a letter to Towne, 4 May 1781, James White wrote, you must ere long now have enjoyed all the coolness of Frascati & Tivoli, studying the beauties of their Woods & Rocks & Water with all the Genius & under the immediate Influence of Gaspar himself. (Tim Wilcox, op cit., p. 57).
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Towne appears to have funded his year-long visit entirely himself. He arrived in Rome in the middle of October 1870 and remained until the following March, when he left to visit Naples, before returning once more to Rome, where he stayed until the end of July. From Towne's surviving work, it appears that the artist found his greatest inspiration in the countryside around the city.
This work, numbered 57, is one of a series of 64 watercolour drawings produced in and around Rome. It was executed towards the end of his time in the region and according to Oppé, there are four further monochrome drawings of Frascati, numbered 56, 58, 59 and 60.
Several of his Italian studies bear the imprint of Towne's thumb or finger and in the wash of the present drawing, the artist's thumb print is visible. This rarely occurs in his other work and suggests the rapid manner that Towne was perhaps working at this time and the way he had to improvise whilst working en plein air.
Towne regarded his Roman drawings as amongst his finest work. On his return to England he used them to promote his work and encourage commissions and he used them to form the centrepiece of his 1805 solo exhibition.