Review:Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne’s Watercolours of Rome, British Museum

This display of watercolours reveal an artist who was under-appreciated in his time and celebrates his talent for capturing the beauty of Rome. 


As well as being a celebration of Towne’s work as a watercolour artist, 2016 also marks the 200th anniversary since the artist gifted his work to the British Museum in 1816.

Many of the works on display focus on the artist’s paintings of the Colosseum, exquisitely detailed and offers a new perspective of one of the world’s most famous landmarks. But there are also different and refreshing views of other areas of Rome, as seen through the eyes of an artist celebrating both nature and travel in his work.

During his lifetime, Townes had his application to join the Royal Academy eleven times and even looking at this display of work it is hard to imagine why. Even from his early work that he completed in Britain, such as Rydal Water Looking Towards Grasmere (1786) , reveal an artist who pays extraordinary attention to detail that others may miss.

The colours that he used in his work, may have been fairly neutral but this allows the viewer to concentrate more on the image as a whole and concentrate on the details rather than how vibrant and colourful the painting is.

Light, Time, Legacy places his work into context with other artist’s fascination with imperial Rome, but Townes focused on the ancient city as a warning to contemporary society to not to make the same mistakes as the Roman empire did. §§§

Each image has been delicately by vividly painted, offering those viewing the work today a fascinating look at what the world would have looked like in Towne’s day. Works such as At Tivoli, above the falls (1781)  really captures the naturalness,beauty  and drama of a world that hadn’t been fully discovered yet.

By viewing the world through Towne’s eyes, visitors really get a sense of the wonder and excitement that the artist must have felt on arrival.

Overall, it is an extraordinary display of work of an artist who deserves to be recognised better than he is currently and is well worth a look if you at the British Museum anytime soon.

Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne’s Watercolours of Rome is on display at the British Museum until the 14th August. Entry to the display is free. 


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