Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Neptune's Grotto, Tivoli
  • image width 397mm,
  • image length 512mm
  • sheet, verso
  • “Tivoli / Neptunes Grotto / Francis Towne / 1781 / No.39”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Mellon Centre (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 (after BP89, Cave of the Winds, Tivoli). On 12 April 1946 Judith Merivale’s executors sold the drawing to Agnew’s (no.4563), where on 15 April 1946 it was bought for £35 by Paul Oppé, whose descendants sold it in 1996 with the rest of Oppé’s collection to the present owner, the Tate Gallery (T08188).

Associated People & Organisations

Tate, London, 1966, T08188
Adolph Paul Oppé (1878 - 1957), London, 15 April 1946, GBP 35
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 12 April 1946, no.4563
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP89
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP89
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
Catalogue of a collection of pictures, drawings, furniture and works of art of the Empire and Regency period : select examples of Romano-British art, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1929, no. 23
73rd Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1946, no. 73
76th Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1949, no. 14
Prospects: An Exhibition of English Landscape Watercolours from English and American Private Collections, Yale University Gallery, 1950, no. 7
Early English Drawings and Watercolours from the Collection of Paul Oppe Esq., Graves Art Gallery, 1952, no. 63
Exhibition of Works from The Paul Oppe Collection, Royal Academy, 1958, no. 103
Il Settecento a Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1959, no. 603
Travels in Italy 1776-1783 based on the Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1988, no. 61
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 26
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 147
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 113


Neptune’s Grotto was at the foot of the waterfalls directly below the Sybil’s Temple (FT256). Towne’s 1793 Royal Academy exhibit, A view in Neptune’s grotto of the Sybil’s temple at Tivoli (FT574), is perhaps related to this drawing, although judging from the title of the work shown in 1793, it also featured a view of the Sybil’s Temple above the grotto.

Unusually for Towne, this drawing is built up entirely in broad watercolour strokes, as if as an experiment and showing similarity with Carlo Labruzzi’s version (Tate). It nonetheless represents the standard view of the grotto, seen also in works by Jacob Phillip Hackert and Jacob More.1 Towne has achieved a sense of the swirling cylindrical motion similar to Hackert’s image.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Jacob Philipp Hackert, Neptune’s Grotto, 1771 (Chiarini 1994); Jacob More, Neptune’s Grotto, (?) 1770s or 1780s (Andrew 1993)

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