Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of the Lake and City of Como
Pencil, watercolour and gum with pen and grey ink
  • image width 356mm,
  • image length 531mm
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower centre
  • “F. Towne delt 1787”
  • in dark brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “A View of the Lake, and City of Como. / Drawn by / Francis Towne. / 1787.”
  • in brown ink
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


This drawing was bought in ca. 1956 by the donor who gave it in 1970 to the current owner, Rhode Island School of Design (70.118.54). This drawing and its companion (FT536) probably descended in an east Devon family collection until the mid-1950s. The Times of 10 November 1955 described this work and FT536 as the property of “Mr Francis Gentry” and on 10 January 1956 the newspaper reported the circumstances of his purchase and sale of both drawings:

An owner of two very elaborate frames enclosing two not very robust drawings goes into an Exeter shop and says: “Please put mirrors in these fine frames and throw away the paper.” A man with an eye [i.e. Francis Gentry] happens to pay a visit to the shop, sees the drawings, and buys them for a few shillings. They are by Francis Towne, are dated 1787, and sell at Sotheby’s for £450 and £570 respectively.

The sale was at Sotheby’s on 9 November 1955, lot 36, to Agnew’s (no.8109) for £570. Agnew’s sold it on 26 March 1956 to Wildenstein & Co for £607 10s., where it was bought by a private collector who donated it in 1970 to the current owner, Rhode Island School of Design (70.118.54). The provenance given in museum records (sold by the Fine Art Society to Agnew’s in January 1946, where on 1 March it was bought by Sir John Heathcoat Amory, Bt (1894–1972), who sold it back to Agnew’s on 31 January 1955) must be a confusion with some other drawing in the museum’s collection.

Associated People & Organisations

Rhode Island Museum of Art, School of Design, Rhose Island, 1970, 70.118.54
Private Collection
Wildenstein & Co, 26 March 1956, GBP 607 10s
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 9 November 1956, GBP 570, no.8109
Sotheby's, London, London, 9 November 1955, lot 36
[?] Francis Gentry, 1955
Exhibition History
82nd Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1956, no. 32
Selection II, British Watercolours and Drawings, Rhode Island School of Design, 1972, no. 13
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 92


This is one of three treatments based on an untraced study (FT351) made in 1781 (the others being FT424 and FT618) and is clearly a pair with the view of Lugano (FT356), which is of the same size, date, technique, and mounting style (with only one thin grey wash line). This looks like an evening view, given the strong yellow of the sky that is reflected in the buildings in the city of Como, and the long shadows thrown across the path in the foreground-left corner. The buildings are the only features to be outlined in pen.

by Richard Stephens

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