The British Museum is currently exhibiting a beautiful collection of Francis Towne’s watercolours made during his 1780-1781 trip to Rome. Seen together for the first time since 1805, the exhibition celebrates the 200th anniversary of their bequest to the British Museum.
At first glance, the delicately rendered and meticulously detailed works give off an impression of calm splendour. However, upon closer inspection, complexities reveal themselves. Varying styles and alternating visions within individual works illustrate Towne’s tendency to work and re-work his watercolours for years and sometimes decades after his initial pencil sketches were created on site.
Visions of famous monuments such as the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill and the Forum crumbling under ivy would have served as a moral warning to Towne’s British contemporaries on the fallibility of man and empire in the face of opulence. Towne’s lack of success as an artist during his own lifetime and later fame in the early 20th century reveals the fickle nature of success and notoriety.
Written by Camron intern Kerry Lynch
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