Letter to Francis Towne


Richard Cosway, Letter to Francis Towne : London, 15 March 1779

March 15. 1779

Dear Friend

The receipt of your Letter was an agreeable surprise to me for I had realy & in good faith given you up as an incorrigible Promise breaker, however ‘tis never too late to mend - I am very glad to find you have at last come to the resolution of Exhibiting some of your Pictures this year - I cannot help thinking you have been somewhat indiscreet in omitting it so long as you have done.1 The more excellent a man's works are the more they ought to be seen - if he wishes to obtain Honour or Emolument & they generally accompany each other - pray remember this & be no longer like the Rose in the Wilderness - that blooms to fade unseen & wastes its sweetness in the Desart Air.2 -

The Pictures are to be sent in for the Exhibition on [?]on beyond the 11th of next month after which time nothing can be admitted.

Stubbs & Miss Spencer desire their compts to you don’t laugh tho’ I believe you will be hardly able to resist when I tell you he has given up horse Painting &c & taken to himself an Idea that he is better qualified to paint History & Portrait which he is now attempting in Enamel on Plates 3 or 4 ft Square.3 - He is now building a larger Kiln in his Stable for burning them - he is also meditating a scheme of painting the inside of St Pauls Church in Enamel - there is a fellow for you - but jokes apart he is all to nothing the most persevering indefatigable man I ever knew. I most sincerely wish he may keep the fruits of his Labour but of this I have my doubts - on many accounts - To tell him so wou’d kill him. - The fact however is this - he has not had a Picture of Horse, Dog or any other Animal bespoke of him these ten months - this has put him out of all humour with Horse Painting & I think with great Reason. There is but one Cause to which I can attribute it, which is that every Man of Fashion allmost is absolutely ruin’d - there was never known in the memory of man such a Universal Wreck - in short Luxury & Extravagance has totally undone the Age. the men are all turn’d Sharper & all the Women Wh....res... this melancholy truth is but too too too well known to your very sincere friend

R Cosway

Pray given me a line of information when you intend visiting London - which will give me Pleasure - I long to have some of our old Laughs over again - I am sorry to tell you poor Mortimer is no more. He died the Day on which he wou’d have been elected Academician had he liv’d-[/fn]John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779), history and portrait painter of Eastbourne, Sussex. Mortimer was another of William Shipley's pupils. Like Stubbs, Mortimer remained loyal to the Society of Artists long after the foundation of the Royal Academy, serving as President in 1774/1775. He first exhibited at the Academy in 1778 and was elected an associate member the same year. He died on 4 February 1779. Sunderland 1988; Sunderland 2004.[/fn]

Mr Towne
Fore Str


  1. 1 Towne exhibited two works in 1779. See FT145, FT148.
  2. 2 Cosway's line was derived from the famous stanza of Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: "Full many a gem of purest ray serene, / The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear: / Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
  3. 3 George Stubbs and fellow-Liverpudlian Mary Spencer (d.1817), his assistant, sole legatee and probably his common-law wife. See note 5, above; Egerton 2004. According to the early biography of Stubbs based on conversations with Ozias Humphry, it was in 1771, and at Cosway's behest, that Stubbs had begun to paint in enamel. He experienced great difficulty in procuring sufficiently large materials to paint on, and by the late 1770s he was using large ceramic plates manufactured by Wedgwood and Bentley. On a visit to Wedgwood in 1780 Stubbs spoke of his regret, which Cosway also mentions in the letter here, at being typecast a horse painter and of his ambitions in history and portrait painting. Humphry 2000 pp.60-63