Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Ambleside
Pencil, pen and brown ink, watercolour, on laid paper
  • image width 235mm,
  • image length 156mm
laid paper with a Fleur-de-lis watermark (similar to Heawood 1829)
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “F.Towne / delt. 1786 / No2”
  • in dark brown ink, the “F” and “T” seemingly overwritten in a thin pencil line
  • sheet, verso
  • “Morng light from the right hand” in pencil and, below it, “No 2 / Ambleside August 7th 1786” in brown ink in a small neat hand
  • artist's mount, verso
  • top left, “No 2”, and centre, “Ambleside / drawn on the Spot by/ Francis Towne / August 7th 1786.” in brown ink with a thin pencil line, the lowest line partly erased
  • now detached from the drawing, but retained among the museum’s files
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


Untraced until June 1967, when J. F. L. Wright of Birchwood House, Derbyshire, sold it for £1,000 to Paul Mellon (1907–1999). Its current owner is the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B1977.14.4147).

Associated People & Organisations

Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, December 1977, B1977.14.4147
Mr Paul Mellon (1907 - 1999), June 1967, GBP 1000
J. F. L. Wright, 1967
Exhibition History
[?] Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 67 as 'Ambleside' or 75, 83 or 91 as 'At Ambleside'
British Watercolors and Drawings from the 18th and 19th Centuries from the Yale Center for British Art, American Federation of Arts, 1985, no. 14
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 46
Peter Bicknell, The Illustrated Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes, Webb & Bower: Exeter, 1984, p. 53


In his 1997 Tate catalogue Wilcox identified the bare foreground as being near St Anne’s Chapel, Ambleside, and suggested that Towne’s elevated viewpoint was the church tower. See also the Comment at FT479. The Armitt Museum, Ambleside, has indicated that the foreground is “The Struggle”, a steep part of the Kirstone Road, with the view looking to part of Loughrigg. 

This may be the Ambleside that was sold in February 1937 by Mrs M. A. Loveband to Agnew’s (no.2331) and bought by Palser Gallery on 16 February 1937 for £23 (and was probably exhibit 54, Ambleside 1786, in Agnew’s 1937 exhibition of watercolours). Equally that may be FT458.

by Richard Stephens

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 1. 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 2, 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.

by Richard Stephens 01 Jul 2007


  1. 1 Wilcox, 1997, p. 107
  2. 2 Wilcox, 1997, pp. 13–15

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