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‘Francis Towne and his Friends’
An Exhibition of Watercolours presented by John Spink
Catalogued by Timothy Wilcox at Colnaghi, London

Tuesday 10th – Friday 25th November 2005

This commercial exhibition of watercolours by Francis Towne (1739-1816) and his friends will be the first major exhibition in living memory. Many of these pictures will not have been seen in public. It will mark the 200th anniversary of Francis Towne’s own one-man show in a Lower Brook Street gallery, London in the Spring of 1805. This exhibition has been arranged by John Spink, the specialist dealer in eighteenth and nineteenth century watercolours, catalogued by Timothy Wilcox, the eminent art historian and exhibition curator and will be held at Colnaghi, 15 Old Bond Street, London from 10th until 25th November.

Francis Towne has been described as the most original and individual exponent of all the early English water-colourists. Although Towne was indebted to Claude and Richard Wilson in his oil painting technique, he evolved his own unique water-colour manner, which he retained with little modification until the end of his life. He was something of a solitary artist with an affinity with open spaces, natural scenery and ruins. Most of his important works are already in major British museums and collections. Recently, some of his watercolours were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

John Spink has been sourcing works by Francis Towne for many years which has resulted in him collecting the largest collection of Francis Towne’s watercolours available for many years. Various private collectors have also kindly loaned additional pictures by Francis Towne, his colleagues and pupils to complete this exhibition.

John Spink’s exhibition illustrates work from the whole of Towne’s career, including pages from his late sketchbooks. These will be exhibited alongside works by his friends, travelling companions and pupils, amongst others William Pars (1742-1782), who loaned him a London address in 1775, John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749-1831) and John White Abbott (1763 – 1851) one of Towne’s most gifted pupils.

Several of the works being exhibited have been illustrated in Adrian Bury’s definitive work on Francis Towne, from 1962; whereas others will not have been on public view in living memory.

John Spink commenting on the show, said: “It has been a long held ambition of mine to showcase the talent of Francis Towne and his followers to the collecting public. I am thrilled to be able to show so many and such good examples of their work.”

Timothy Wilcox MA MPhil, Cataloguer of this forthcoming exhibition comments: “This is extremely important exhibition coming as it does on the 200th anniversary of Towne’s own show. I am delighted to be involved in the extending the appreciation of one of Britain’s most distinctive watercolourists.”

Katrin Bellinger, Director of Colnaghi said: “We at Colnaghi are pleased to offer our gallery to such an exceptional collection of work by one of the best exponents of the English watercolour technique.”

John Spink, based in London, has long been known for dealing in the highest quality watercolours by artists of note from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; specialising in artists from the Royal Society of Watercolours. He has over thirty years of experience, having started dealing in the 1970’s with his father, Marshall Spink, a renown art expert and old master expert of the Spink, following in the tradition of the Spink family.
Colnaghi, 15 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4AX
Photographs available upon request
For further information:
John Spink
9 Richard Burbidge Mansions
1 Brasenose Drive
London SW13 8RB Tel: 020 8741 6152
Mob: 07808 614168

Media enquiries:
Russell Elliott
Cassleton Elliott & Co T: +44(0)780 8403963

Notes to Editors:
Francis Towne (1739 – 1816)
Francis Towne is considered to be one of the most original and individual exponents of all the early English watercolourists. As regards composition, colour, and the pen style which he generally but not invariably practised Towne seems to stand alone. His way of expression was not materially influenced either by his predecessors or contemporaries. Though Towne was indebted to Claude Lorraine and Richard Wilson in the technique of oil painting, he evolved his own unique water-colour manner and retained it with little modification until the end of his life.

He was born in Isleworth, near London in 1739; although he lived for many years in Exeter, his closest friends were from Exeter and he and his wife were interred in Heavitree churchyard in Exeter.

He is thought to have begun to paint in oils aged fourteen at Shipley’s School in Castle Court off the Strand in London. Towne gained his first premium of the Society of Arts in 1759. He began his career as an artist as in 1762, when he exhibited three works at the second exhibition of the Society of Artists in Spring Gardens. He was made a member of the Society of Artists in 1772 showing two works in that year and two in the following year. He exhibited at the Free Society in 1763 and 1766 and made his debut at the Royal Academy in 1775 and showed there at intervals until 1810. His first contribution to the British Institution was in 1808 and his last in 1815.

From the age of 37 Towne established himself as a reputable artist, based in Exeter, doing drawings and paintings of country houses and landscapes. He ‘made £500 a year by teaching drawing’ according to John White Abbott, his son Francis Abbott was to be Towne’s godson. He had many local landed and titled clients in Devon.

Towne had been away from London for a while before he exhibited at the RA in 1775 and again in 1779. He had possibly been working in Devon for about 20 years, using Exeter as his headquarters and had gained a local reputation as a painter, draughtsman of country seats and a drawing master.

Looking at his work he seems something of a solitary individual. He loved open spaces, natural scenery and ruins. His ambitions were largely aesthetic, though, as we shall see later he was far from indifferent to money.

It was in 1777 he made a tour of Wales perhaps with James White. The Welsh mountains were to inspire him to further develop his style in the tinted drawing technique. He perfected this austere and dignified vision of nature in his mountain drawings of Switzerland.

Towne followed his contemporaries to Italy when he met up with John ‘Warwick’ Smith in Rome where they sketched and influenced each other’s work, before going to Switzerland together and returning to England in 1781. He was recorded to have done a painting in Geneva in September 1780 and by October he was in Rome, which became his base. Some of his finest works were inspired by the Coliseum and he was making drawings of the Baths of Caracalla in January 1781. In April he was exploring the environs of Rome, Nemi, Albano, Tivoli and the Falls of Terni, having previously been in Naples.

In August of 1781 he was in Florence, and travelled through the Italian lakes, passing by Lugano. Towne concentrated on alpine scenes and his technique had improved enormously during August and September.

After he returned to England, he made a trip in 1786 to the Lake District with John Merivale and John White, a couple of his oldest friends. By 1788 he had resumed exhibiting at the RA.

It was on August 5th 1807 this bachelor artist married Jeanette Hilligsberg, a dancer of French descent 40 years his junior at St Mary Le Bone. His decision to be in London said to be his only home from 1803; although he and his wife were also recorded as having a home in Exeter in 1807.

He held his one man show of 191 drawings in a Lower Brook Street gallery in February 1805, where 1st exhibition of the newly formed Society of Painters in Watercolours was held in the April. His exhibition ‘of the most picturesque scenes in the neighbourhood of Rome, Naples, and other parts of Italy, Switzerland etc, together with a select number of views of the Lakes, Cumberland, Westmoreland and North Wales. The whole drawn on the spot by Francis Towne’ Landscape Painter.’

Francis Towne and his wife set up home in London in November 1807, with Mrs Towne tragically dying on 16th April 1808 aged 27. She was buried in Heavitree churchyard in Exeter, where Towne was later to be buried. By 1813 Towne’s health had begun to fail and he in turn died on 17 July 1816 in 31 Devonshire Street, London aged 77.

John Spink
John Spink has been a well respected dealer in watercolours for over 30 years, following in the footsteps of his family, the world famous dealers Spink & Son. Both his Father and Grandfather have been picture dealers and John was named after his ancestor, who founded Spink & Son in 1667, the renowned dealers, formerly based in St James’s.

His focus, as ever, has been on pictures of the highest quality and in prime condition. All his watercolours are in top condition, mounted and framed to the highest modern standards and are protected with the best quality museum light-conservation glass as standard. He has always maintained that beautiful watercolours from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are capable of bestowing lasting pleasure. He has found the medium of watercolour intrinsically beautiful, which is why he has specialised in the work of artists in the Royal Society of Watercolours area so successfully.

His father Marshall Spink used to say: ‘Never mind the premises, everything will be alright if you get the right pictures.’ It is with this credo in mind that John Spink finds his superb stock.

John Spink regularly exhibits at:
• The BADA Fair
• The Fine Art & Antiques Fair – Olympia
• The Watercolour Fair
To receive an invitation to and a catalogue for our forthcoming exhibition, or an invitation to come and visit his collection by appointment, please reply

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