Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Landscape with Three Witches from Macbeth
No date
Pen and ink, (?) monochrome wash
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Witt Library; Wilcox 1997 (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP266). On 14 January 1935 Judith Merivale sold it to Thomas Sherrer Ross Boase (1898–1974) for £10 (with FT800). It was subsequently owned by Dame Edith Margaret Emily “Peggy” Ashcroft (1907–1991).

Associated People & Organisations

Dame Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft (1907 - 1991)
Thomas Sherrer Ross Boase (1898 - 1974), 14 January 1935, GBP 10
Acquired with FT800
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP266
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP266
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
Annual Water Colour Exhibition 1926, The Judge's Lodgings, Winchester, 1926, no. 138
Thomas Sherrer Ross Boase, 'Illustrations of Shakespeare's Plays in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes: London, 1947, p. 85
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 33


This is a composition based on the events in Act 1, Scene 3, of Macbeth, where Macbeth and Banquo meet three witches. It was a popular subject for landscape painters of the late eighteenth century who treated it as a sublime landscape with figures, rather than as a dramatic narrative or study in characterisation as, for instance, Henry Fuseli had. Towne’s rearing horse and flag-bearing riders betray a knowledge of the well-known version by Francesco Zuccarelli (1702–1788) exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1767 (now Royal Shakespeare Company), whose engraving William Woolett exhibited in 1770 and 1771. Towne may well also have known the picture by John Wootton (1682–1764; offered at Sotheby’s on 8 December 2011). Notwithstanding the early dates of these models, on stylistic grounds Towne’s drawing probably comes from the 1780s.

by Richard Stephens

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