About Rosa M. Towne

Rosalba (Rosa) M. Towne was born on June 15, 1827, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The daughter of John and Sarah (Robinson) Towne, she was reared in an affluent and cultured household..."with refined tastes and excellent judgement in matters relative to horticulture and the fine arts." She is listed as having been a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1869; however, records indicate she had been painting at least as early as the 1850's.

With the exception of these paitings on the Plant Lore of Shakespeare, the whereabouts of her paintings are unknown, but it is known that she exhibited the following paintings at the annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: 1877-Sea View at Brigantine, New Jersey; 1877-View of Hunting Island, South Carolina(w.c.); 1878-Lake Champalin (w.c.); 1878- Tacony Creek, Philadelphia (w.c.); 1879-Sea Island Sketch, Georgia (w.c.); 1881-Study of Southern Trumpet Vine (w.c.); 1882-Elder Flowers (w.c.); 1882-Cobblestone Beach, Magnolia, Mass. (w.c.); 1882-Near Saybrook, Connecticut (w.c.); 1882- Sketch of Upper Wissahickon, Philadelphia (w.c.); 1882-Beach at Sea Girt, New Jersey Coast (w.c.); 1882-Beach at Sea Girt, New Jersey Coast (charcoal); 1882-Hawthorne Blossoms (w.c.); 1883-Cherokee Rose; 1883-Fog Lifting, Manchester Shore; 1883-Old Homestead on Lake Champlaine; 1883-Study of Skye Terrier's Head.

Miss Towne must have devoted most of her life to botanical paintings, for she also produced a five volumn series entitled, "Studies of Wildflowers and Shrubs", Drawn and colored from Nature, 1859-1890, published by Cummings and Senat Penman, in Philadelphia. The watercolors are very similar to those found in these works on Shakespeare. They are, however, all of plants native to the Eastern United States, paritcularly the Philadelphia area. The flowers are arranged in the order of their growing season. For example, the first volume begins with flowers that bloom in April, May, and June while the second volume continues with June, July, and August. There was little change in Miss Towne's style between the 1860's and the 1890's. These volumes are in the library at the University of Pennsylvania, having been donated by her brother, William E. Towne.

From 1888 to 1898, Miss Towne devoted her energy and talent to painting the flowers other plants mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. She Meticulously followed the organization found in the Reverend Henry N. Ellacombe's scolarly treatise: " The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare" (Ed. 2, 1884), W. Satchell & Company, London. On completion of these paintings, as revealed by correspondence found in the manuscript of these works, Miss Towne offered these paintings to the Shakespeare Museum in Stratford-on-Avon. But she received no reply during her lifetime. Miss Towne died at her home "Oakshade" near Philadelphia, on December 3, 1909. When answer to her offer finally came, several years after her death, the paintings were in the possession of her brother, William E. Towne, who was unwilling to give them up. There are no avaiable records that provide clues as to how these paitings came to be in a Paris bookshop that specialized in rare books and manuscripts. There is no record either of exactly when, or how, Professor Oakes Ames acquired the manuscript from this antiquarian shop.

Professor Ames was Reasearch Professor of Botany at Harvard University, whe had from his youth exhibited an intense interest in horticulture and botany...."An artist and perfectionist at heart, Professor Ames insisted almost fanatically upon the highest quailty in paper,printing, and composition to set the highest standared in scientific publications." And with such high standards, it seems prophetic that his travels resulted in the acquisition of Miss Towne's paintings of Shakespeare's flowers, which he donated to the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, during the time he was director. They hang there today.

Thirty or more years later, these works came to the attention of Professor Richard Evans Schultes, presently the Paul C. Manglesdorf Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard University. He discovered the work during the refurbishing of the Museum's Library of Economic Botany. Once having discovered it, Dr. Schultes set about to find a suitable publisher to reproduce these works of this unusual, and exquisite, colection of paintings. He searched all through Europe, and was unsuccessful, but did not give up. In 1971, Dr. Schultes brought the paintings to The Frame House Gallery and Printmakers, where after months of expermintation Dr. Schultes was presented with the quality of proofs that he demanded. From this there were 2500 editions made and limited to only that. It is this collection that we have acquired and offer for sale.

It has been a long journey for Rosa M. Towne's paintings of Shakespeare's flowers, and it is most fitting that these paintings should be reintroduced at a 1974 exibition, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

It is, however, strange that no other of her paintings have ever shown up to date......


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