Letter to James White


Francis Towne, Letter to James White : Exeter, March 1815

side one, left

To / James White Esq.-
North Street

side one, right

31 Devonshire Street
My Dear Friend March Portland Place
I received your letter the 28th of last Month
I am sorry to hear of the accident you met with
but I hope you will soon be perfectly well again
& have no Gout to follow it, I went Yesterday
& bought Miss Podgers2
Sixteenth share in the
ensuing Lottery, at Richardsons; Goodluck & Co
Charing-Cross3 the No of the Ticket is 14m776 I
fixed on a high number as she desired & I
hope to wish her joy of the two drawn [?]Blanks
the first Da[y], such will receive 1,000 Guineas in
Gold!! I p[ai]d for the Sixteenth, one pound
Ten shilli[n]gs, so that I have now remaining
of your mo[n]ey in my hands, three pounds
nine Shill[i]ngs. There is an Exhibition
of Lucien [Buo]napartes Pictures for sale by private
contract [...................]Gallery No 60 Pall Mall4
[..................................]Gallery Admittance one Shillg
[...............................E]ighteen pence, the number
make 19[..................]set out with an intention
to be sold [as one] Lot, but now they allow the
Collection itself to be separated, this Exhibition
will close the beginning of next August.---

side two, left

So that it will be open when you come to London,
in this Collection there is a great variety, many
Pictures of the Italian Schools, but my own opinion
is that there are some good Pictures, but no capital
The Exhibition of Pictures at the British
Gallery is now open to the Publick I have two Pictures
in it, the one is a view near Whitestone looking
towards the River Exe, the other is the Fall of
the Cayne in Merionethshire6, both of which you
have seen; tho’ not since they have been finished
when the Exhibition closes, the Rooms are to
be hung with most splendid Crimson velvet
the expense will be several hunderd pounds
& in May next, its to open with the most
Capital Pictures of the Flemish & Dutch
Schools, that are in England, the Prince
is to send thirteen Pictures, & the celebrated
Picture of Silenus from Blenheim, &c7
Sharp8 is now engrav[ing.............................] the
Grand Altar-piece of Fra[ncesco Ba]rbieri called
Guarcino da Cento, from the Church of St Grisogano
at Rome9; a most magnificent Picture indeed, in point
of effect & splendour of colouring, this subject

side two, right

Represents the Apotheosis of St Grisogano who is habited
in the costume of a Soldier, & who like St Sebastian had
also become a Martyr to the Christian Religion, when I
paid my attention to it (which I did for an hour) I was
struck with wonder, it displays the great school in
the highest degree, the drawing & colouring are
especially fine, the light striking on the figures of
the two angels, in the clouds passes on to the principal
figure & is carried across the Picture in a great Style
of Historical Painting, this Picture is 16 high by 91/2
feet broad, its said they ask 6000 pounds for this
picture, what vast intellectual powers must
such an artist possess, to invent, put together,
& execute so great a work as this Picture [.....]
is, & when I [re]flect I am lost in Wonder, [...]
Italien Scho[o]ls are of a much higher Gusto
in regard to [t]he fine works of art, than any
other, & requ[ire] a much deeper knowledge of
the highest [wa]lk of Art, for which reason they
are not [.................................] the Dutch & Flemish
P[ainters...................... gener]ally of a more familiar
[............................................] case th[e] generality
of [......................................] believe by this time tired
you therefo[re] coming to the end of my paper
with my kindest remembrances to Miss Podger
I remain yr most sincere & affectionate
Friend Francis Towne
PS - the bordered
parts of this letter
read afterwards

The following five-part postscript written in the margins of the paper

left margin of side one, right

The high Opinion I have always entertained of your taste & judgement in the fine Arts, has
led me to make the following observation, that is the two Pictures I have mentioned in this
Letter, first that [?]by Parmigiano I saw at Harris’s Room in Bond Street & with not a single human
being in the Room but myself, I therefore indulged myself with time, & all my attention to it, the
Picture of Guicino I did the same thing, except here was a Gentleman who I found had travelled
w[ho] flattered & thanked me in the politest manner for the remarks which I
made to him
& this
I practise
ever #
# I [?]would
wish to
see & b

top margin of side one, right

b such Stupendous works of Art as these two Pictures, & as its my
greatest wish to improve my judgement, I give it to you
on terms the most sincere
without the opinions of others but not so to other people as I have
ever been cautious - to say as little on the sub-
- ject as I can & this I have found highly necessary to
do therefore you may depend 1

bottom margin of side one, right

1 on my opinions to [y]ou are always sincerely given & the warmth
with which I h[ave] expressed them is the natural feelings I have 2

left margin of side two, left

2 Been impressed with, Living as I do in the greatest City in the World, I have an opportunity which
I am gratified in seeing some of the finest productions of art which leaves me nothing more to wish
for in a professional light in regard to my Situation, & whenever I have given you what
I have thought of works of art its been with that sincere intention that you
should have as much pleasure as myself 3

left margin of side two, right

3 I hope some time or other you will see these two Pictures, there is so much depends
[?]upon that the habits of the blind should be keept in motion; as well as the bodily
habits or else they both are too apt to rust - Adieu


  1. 1 31 Devonshire Street was Towne's home from 1811 until death.
  2. 2 Ann Podger was James White's companion and key beneficiary of his will. She also received a small legacy in the 1833 will of James White of Sloane Street (see Appendix 4, note 20).
  3. 3 Richardson, Goodluck & Co, Stock Brokers, were leading sellers of State Lottery tickets. In the lottery to be drawn on 5 April 1815 15,000 tickets were offered for sale, Towne having bought no.14,776. The Times, 10 and 20 March 1815.
  4. 4 The collection of 198 pictures formerly owned by Lucien Bonaparte (1775-1840), Prince of Canino, was displayed at William Buchanan's New Gallery, 60 Pall Mall. The display began on 6 February, was still open on 15 May but had closed by 4 August. Buchanan 1815; The Times, 15 May 1815, 4 August 1815.
  5. 5 Towne's disappointment was widely felt: "When this collection, which had always made a considerable figure among those galleries which had been formed of recent date on the continent, came to this country, it excited considerable attention among the lovers of art; but when it came to be generally known that about twenty of the very finest pictures of the collection had been retained in Rome... a damp was cast upon that ardour with which it was at first received by the public." Buchnanan 1824, vol 2, p.267.
  6. 6 The British Institution was next door to Buchanan's New Gallery. The exhibition opened on or before 11 February and Towne's exhibits were FT652 and FT653. The Times 11 February 1815.
  7. 7 This exhibition opened on 4 May 1815 "with a selection of celebrated pictures, by Rubens, Rembrandt, Vandyke, and other eminent artists of the Flemish and Dutch School." The Times 29 April 1815. its
    imagined the Rooms [.........] crowded from
    morning till night [...............] since I saw a
    very fine Picture of the [..........Parm]igiano[fn]Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome by Girolamo Francesco Mazzola (1503-1540), called 'Parmigianino'. This picture, now in the National Gallery, London, was bought by the Marques of Abercorn in or before 1795 for 1,500 guineas and sold by him in or before 1809 to Harris, a leading London picture dealer of Bond Street, amongst whose other significant purchases were the Altieri Claudes from William Beckford, to whom Lord Abercorn had tried to sell the Parmigianino for £3,000. Farington 1978, pp.433, 3451; Gould 1975, pp.191-196; Redgrave 1970, p.388.
  8. 8 William Sharp (1749-1824), engraver. No works by him after Parmigianino or Guercino are recorded. Baker 1875.
  9. 9 The 12th century church of St Grisogono (now called St. Crisogono) in Rome was restored for Cardinal Scipio Borghese in 1624. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), from Cento near Ferrara and known as 'Guercino', was active in Rome in the early 1620s. A copy of the painting was placed in the church when the original was removed for sale.