Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Elter Water

What makes for a spontaneous looking landscape? One might imagine paint applied directly and confidently, in broad, vigorous strokes, as in the sketches of Constable or Turner. But this was not the only route to a lively image, as the watercolours of Francis Towne (1739-1816) demonstrate. Towne started with a pencil sketch, followed this with the application of paint, and then a further process of drawing in which the original sketch re-emerged. As Timothy Wilcox has pointed out in his book on Towne, the ‘initial drawing is retained by being recreated, like a repeat performance, within the painted image, line and colour preserved together in a perpetually resolved tension. The line was the very stuff of the ‘on the spot’ experience: Towne did not want to lose it when he added colour to his drawing.’ This approach can be seen in his Lakeland views, like Elter Water (1786). In fact Wilcox sees Towne’s procedure in five stages: write – draw – paint – draw – write. The writing stages comprised the initial note and the final record of the time, place and conditions of the landscape.

The Wilcox book also includes a fascinating inventory of the contents of Francis Towne’s library in 1816. There are dictionaries and maps from his trips abroad, along with travel books (Gilpin, Addison) and guide books to the Lakes. There are, unsurprisingly, books on art (Hogarth, De Piles) and Reynolds’ discourses, but also compositions by Handel and ‘2 Written Books of Music bound in Calf’. Literature includes Don Quixote, The Beggars Opera, Metamorphoses and Gil Blas. Other titles include New Heraldry in Miniature, The Wild Irish Girl, The Provok’d Wife – A Comedy and Bona Mors – or the Art of Dying happily.

Francis Towne, Windermere at Sunset, 1786

No comments: