Letter to Francis Towne


Ozias Humphry, Letter to Francis Towne : 17 April 1781

Newman Str Ap 17th 1781

Dear Towne

I rec’d the favor of your obliging Letter from Rome giving me a long Account of your Journey thither wch must have been delightful to you. Whilst you were rioting in all the luxuries of those Scenes I was amusing myself with my friends in Devonshire. Tho we have prospects there that are rich & for English Scenes very extensive, how wretched & limited they seem compared with what you see from the Convent above the lake of Albano?1 or how infinitely small compared with those from Monte Cavo still higher up?2 What villa there can be named with Monte Dragone at Frascati - and the Villa Braccione?3 Where are there Waterfalls like that at Tivoli ornamented with such an exquisite & classical Fragment as the Temple, & the ruins of Mecaenas' Villa?4 Again so near the Villa d’Este & the stupendous ruins of that of Adrian?5 from what Earthly Situation can be seen a sight so awful as that from the Capital Tower?6 on one side ruins of those massy Structures of the Tyrants & Sovereigns of the World - & on the other the no less magnificent Buildings of modern Rome. How my heart throbs when I reflect on them? What again can be grander than the Scene from the front of St Pietro Montorio7 a bare Catalogue of the Objects of wch must warm the most indifferent Reader - I must have done - this I scrawl in Newman Str at my Breakfast whilst my tea is cooling Perhaps you will be more amus’d to know that Mr West & family8 are well - Paines do9 & all Friends I have just bought ten volumes more of Piranesi’s Antiquities of Rome10 that nothing of them may be forgotten Our Exhibition will open on May Day shall I anticipate the contents to you? Sr Joshua will exhibit his Death of Dido. Hon Lady Waldegrave half length a figure of Thais from the last Stanza of Dryden’s Alexander’s Feast, with a Flambeau in Zeal to destroy when like another Helen she fired another Troy11 - Mr West sends an immensely large picture of Christ healing the Sick - for Windsor12 - Banks his Cupid - a Colossal Head of Hume & a model of the Princess made in Terra.13 Mr Gainsborough portraits of the King & Queen and many others.14 Farrington an immense Landskip, a view of the lakes in Cumberland which I hear very great accts of.15 Poor Wilson is utterly incapable indeed he moves about the Street an awful lesson to every intemperate Artist.16 Mrs Cosway sends many things that will do her great credit.17 Stubbs sends the largest Enamel picture of fighting Horses that probably ever was painted18 - Gainsborough will likewise have many Landskips I beg to be kindly remembered to Day - Pars - Jones19 - & all Friends in Rome - pray tell the former that his pictures that he sent me do him great credit I wish to hear from him very much but much want to see him in England. I shall esteem it a great favour if you will be so obliging as to bring me three or four pounds of Black Italian Chalk but pray take care that it is really good, smooth & Black because we have an indifferent sort in great abundance here -

I remain with very best wishes for your health & prosperity

Your very sincere friend
Ozias Humphrey

Monsieur Towne
au Café Anglois
a Rome
en Italie


  1. 1 Towne drew the view from the convent at Albano on 12 July 1781. See the note at FT294.
  2. 2 Towne drew two views from Monte Cavo (FT283, FT284).
  3. 3 Towne drew at both of these villas. See the note at FT286.
  4. 4 Towne drew both the Sybil's Temple (FT256) and Maecenas Villa (FT263) at Tivoli.
  5. 5 Towne made three sketches at Hadrian's Villa on 22 May 1781 (FT272 to FT274). No sketches of Villa d'Este are known.
  6. 6 The Capitol Tower on the capitoline hill behind the Temple of Concord (FT214) offered views of the forum, colosseum and the countryside South of Rome.
  7. 7 The church of St Pietro in Montorio (St Peter on the Golden Hill) on the Janiculus, offered views of modern Rome and the Vatican.
  8. 8 Benjamin West (1738-1820), history painter. He married Elizabeth Shewell (1741-1814) and had two sons. The Wests lived at 14 Newman Street, close to Humphry at 25 Newman Street.
  9. 9 James Paine (1745-1829), architect, sculptor and landscape artist, who was a longstanding friend of Humphry's. A Roman Catholic, Paine made designs for Ugbrooke Park in 1776-1777 and in 1779, during which time he was perhaps acquainted with Towne. Papworth 2004.
  10. 10 This is an unidentified edition or arrangement of Piranesi's four volume work Le Antichita romane opera di Giambattista Piranesi, published in 1756.
  11. 11 Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), President of the Royal Academy. In 1781 he exhibited no.10 Thais, no.21 Portrait of a gentleman, no.147 Portrait of a young gentleman, no.160 The death of Dido, no.182 Portrait of a gentleman, no.187 Portraits of three ladies, no.225 Portrait of a lady, no.241 Portrait of a lady, no.389 Temperance, no.395 A child asleep, no.402 Fortitude, no.421 Boy laughing, no.427 Portraits of a lady and child.
  12. 12 West's picture was no.80 An Historical picture, representing the sick, possessed, &c. brought to our Saviour to be healed, painted for his Majesty's chapel in Windsor-castle. He also showed no.266 Paetus and Arria.
  13. 13 Thomas Banks (1735-1805), sculptor. He was in Rome at the same time as Humphry and in 1781 was an official witness at Richard Cosway's wedding. Banks's exhibits in 1781 were no.437 Portrait of Mr.R.Home, a model in terra cotta; no.465 Portrait of the daughter of a royal personage, in the character of Psyche plucking the golden wool, a model, and no.534 Cupid, a statue in marble.
  14. 14 Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), portrait and landscape painter. His 1781 exhibits were no.39 Portrait of a Bishop, no.77 Landscape, no.94 Landscape, no.146 Portrait of his Majesty, no.168 Portrait of her Majesty, no.176 A shepherd, and no.426 Landscape.
  15. 15 Joseph Farington (1747-1821), landscape painter. Farington's 'immense landskip' was exhibit 1 The Grange in Borrodale, near Keswick. He also showed two works, nos.103 and 105 both called A cottage.
  16. 16 Richard Wilson (1712/1713-1782), landscape painter. In his last years Wilson suffered poverty, illness and alcoholism and his final Academy exhibit, which appeared in 1780, was an old picture dating from the 1760s. In 1781 he was taken from London by his Welsh relatives and died at Colomendy Hall in Denbighshire the following year. Solkin 2004.
  17. 17 Maria Louisa Catherine Cecilia Cosway (1760-1838, née Hadfield), history painter. In January 1781 she married the artist Richard Cosway. Her Royal Academy exhibits in 1781 were no.11 Rinaldo, no.68 Creusa appearing to Aeneas and no.139 --Like Patience on a monument, smiling at Grief.
  18. 18 George Stubbs's 1781 exhibit was no.17 Two horses in enamel. See note 5, above, and Letter 3, above.
  19. 19 Humphry's pupil Alexander Day (1745-1841), William Pars (see note 1, above) and Thomas Jones (1742-1803), landscape painter, with whom Towne had spent much time in Naples in March 1781.