Charles Townley (1737-1805) was a Lancashire Catholic with a considerable fortune. He travelled on three Grand Tours to Italy, buying antique sculpture, vases, coins, manuscripts and Old Master drawings and paintings. Many of the most important pieces from his collection are now in the British Museum's Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
This watercolour is one of a pair which show the Townley Collection arranged in his house at 7 Park Street, Westminster. He printed a catalogue and encouraged visitors so that the collection became one of the significant sights of London. In the centre of this view of the sculptures displayed in the dining room, a young lady sketches, seated at the base of the famous Discobolos (discus-thrower) discovered at Tivoli, Italy in 1791 and now in The British Museum. The room's colour scheme of red Ionic columns, painted to look like porphyry (precious red marble), and blue walls, was designed specifically as a strong visual backdrop, to focus the viewer's attention on the white marble sculptures alone.
This drawing, in pen and ink with watercolour and touches of gouache is by W. Chambers, a minor artist who flourished around 1794, one of a number of artists employed by Townley to draw objects in his collection. Townely paid 'W. Chambers £5.5.0 for the companion view of the Hall of Park Street in 1795. He may be the W.A. Chalmers who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1790 to 1794, and he is not to be confused with the more famous architect, Sir William Chambers (1723-96).