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LOTS 49 to 51
These pages all derive from the same small sketchbook, and were among the very first works by Towne bought by Sir William Worsley. Beginning in 1809, Towne discovered a remarkable new burst of creative energy. Despite worsening health, each year he made a series of late summer tours to various parts of Britain, usually including Devon in the itinerary, where he must have visited old friends such as James White and the Merivale family who he saw only occasionally in London. Oppé knew five intact sketchbooks, and a sixth, covering a trip to Scotland in 1811 emerged later (Walpole Society, vol. VIII, 1919-20, p. 124, n. 1). The only one still intact is the one used in 1810, covering Wales and also Devon and Cornwall, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The sketchbook which contained these pages is unusual in at least two respects: with pages measuring only slightly more than 4 x 7 inches, it is the smallest of all the six sketchbooks Towne used during these years, and, rather more significantly, it is the only one which was used in more than one year. Oppé records that it contained drawings dated between 1812 and 1815. These were the only drawings known from 1812, when Towne seems to have travelled only as far as the outskirts of London; in 1813 and 1815 he used the small book in conjunction with other, larger ones.
In addition to the present three watercolours in the collection, Worsely also acquired two others, another East End view from 1813, Looking towards Greenwich Hospital (Bury, op.cit., p.141), and a second view of Windsor Castle, described by Bury as 'with trees, cattle and figures' (loc.cit.). The slightly jittery penwork of the view of Windsor Castle with St George's Chapel does not necessarily mean the watercolour dates from 1815, the last summer of Towne's working life; other drawings from this year are still remarkably firm (for example, Tothill, Museum of Art of Rhode Island School of Design, or Fort Olda, Tavistock, with Agnew's in 1989). It may be that the Windsor drawing dates from 1812, when Towne did least work, but wanted to revisit the Castle of which he executed three, possibly four, panoramic views the previous year (Christie's, London 7 April 1992, lot 69 and Christie's, London, 12 November 1991, lots 14 and 15, numbered 2, 4 and 5).
The extreme precision of the inscription, 'from 10 to 11 o'clock' on the Windsor drawing is significant. Although he had continued to make careful records of lighting effects on the backs of his drawings, Towne had not regularly made such accurate notations of the time of day since his days in Rome in 1780. When he began to do it again in drawings of 1813 and 1815, he was revisiting the most intense and productive period of his youth, and demonstrating that more than thirty years of relative neglect had done nothing to diminish his self-belief. Given his almost obsessive clock-watching (which extended, in a drawing of Fordland from this sketchbook, now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, to 'From 5 minutes after 11 to ¼ of twelve o'clock'), it is hardly surprising that, in the inventory of his London house taken after his death, it was in the painting room that were recorded the presence of two pocket watches.
Other pages from this sketchbook are in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada and Path running through a glade, sold Christie's, London 11 September 1976, lot 71, as well as private collections in Britain.