<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

Francis Towne, 1740–1816, British


Watercolor and brown and gray ink over graphite on medium slightly textured cream laid paper
Sheet: 9 1/4 x 6 1/8 inches (23.5 x 15.6 cm)

Inscribed in black ink, lower left: "No 2"; inscribed on verso in graphite, upper center: "Morning light from the right hand"; in brown ink, upper left: "No 2"; in brown ink, upper center: "Ambleside August 7th 1786"; in brown ink, in docket on old mount, verso: "No 2 | Ambleside | drawn on the spot by | Francis Towne | August 7th 1786."

Signed and dated in black ink, lower left: "F. Towne | del. 1786 | No 2"

Watermark: Fleur-de-lis (similar to Heawood 1829)

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
hills | landscape | people | trees | village
View by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.
IIIF Manifest:

Although the Reverend William Gilpin, the great popularizer of picturesque travel, toured the Lake District in 1772, he did not publish his observations on the tour until 1786. By that date, the Lakes had already attracted a number of writers and artists who found in its scenery native equivalents to the landscapes of Claude Lorrain, Gaspard Dughet, and Salvator Rosa. George Barrett, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, Thomas Hearne, and Thomas Gainsborough had visited the area, and Joseph Farington had actually lived and worked in Keswick from 1775 to 1781. Thomas West’s “Guide to the Lakes”, first published in 1778, had gone through several editions. Thus Gilpin's publication of “Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, on Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland” only confirmed and enhanced an existing appreciation of Lakeland scenery both as a subject for artists and as an object of Picturesque touring.
Perhaps spurred by Gilpin’s newly published volume, Towne traveled north in the company of John Merivale and James White, two friends from Exeter, in early August. They reached the village of Ambleside, situated near the head of Lake Windermere, on August 7, the date Towne inscribed on the verso of this watercolor. Using Ambleside as the base for much of their touring, they spent two weeks in Lakes, possibly cutting short their visit because of bad weather (Wilcox, 1997, p. 107).
This watercolor, the second in the carefully numbered sequence of drawings Towne produced during the trip, shows the view looking north from Ambleside to Rydal, Grasmere, and Keswick. The artist’s inscription on the drawing’s original mount indicated that the watercolor was “drawn on the spot,” but this would refer only to the underlying pencil outlines. These outlines were later reinforced in pen and ink: a fine line in gray ink in the distant mountains, a heavier line in brown ink in the nearer trees and buildings. Over these outlines Towne has laid flat washes of color. While the effect is formal and decorative, Tim Wilcox has argued that Towne’s method of working up his watercolors was intended to emphasize their origin as sketches (Wilcox, 1997, pp. 13–15), which would seem to be supported by the additional notations on the verso about the time of day and fall of light. Towne exhibited no watercolors from the tour, nor any other Lake District subjects, until his one-man show of 1805.

Scott Wilcox

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 261-62, no. 44, pl. 44

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 261-62, no. 44, pl. 44, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 44, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Giles Waterfield, Mr. Mellon, RA : the magazine for the Friends of the Royal Academy, No. 96, Autumn 2007, p. 72, V 1905 (YCBA)

Scott Wilcox, British watercolors, drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries from the Yale Center for British Art , Hudson Hill Press, New York, 1985, no. 14, pl. 14, ND1928 W533 1985 (YCBA)

Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing, London, 1997, p. 107, pp. 13-15, NJ18 T695 W55 1997 (YCBA)

If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.