Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Lake Como (Lago di Mezzola)
ca. 1781
Pencil, pen and brown and grey inks, watercolour
  • image width 154mm,
  • image length 211mm
mounted by the artist on paper watermarked “J WHATMAN 1804 [or 1810?]”, with a thin and shaky grey washline
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “F.Towne. / No32. delt.1781”
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No32 / Lake of Como / drawn from Nature / by / Francis Towne / [“August 2[. . .]th. 1781” scratched out]”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image); Bower 1998


Untraced until sold anonymously at Foster’s on 27 July 1910, lot 151 (a group with FT228, FT257, FT283, FT284, FT296, FT310, FT318, FT319, FT325, FT326, FT327, FT329, FT330, FT339, FT340, FT361, FT793, FT862), for 25s. to Paul Oppé (1878–1957; no.51), whose descendants sold it in 1996 with the rest of Oppé’s collection to the Tate Gallery (T08569).

Associated People & Organisations

Tate, London, 1996, T08569
Adolph Paul Oppé (1878 - 1957), London, 27 July 1910, GBP 25s, no.51
Foster's auctioneers (1883 - 1940), 27 July 1910, GBP 25, lot 151
Sold a a group with FT228, FT257, FT283, FT284, FT296, FT310, FT318, FT319, FT325, FT326, FT327, FT329, FT330, FT339, FT340, FT361, FT793 and a drawing by an unidentified pupil
Exhibition History
unidentified exhibition, Institute of Art Research, 1929, no. 13
76th Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1949, no. 10
Exhibition of Works from The Paul Oppe Collection, Royal Academy, 1958, no. 82
Exhibition of Works from The Paul Oppe Collection, National Gallery of Canada, 1961, no. 81
De Englese Aquarel uit de 18de Eeuw, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Albertina, Vienna, 1965, no. 120
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 145
Peter Bower, 'Drawing Paper in the 18th and 19th centuries: Papers from the Opp_ Collection, part 2', The Quarterly Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians: [?] London, 1998, p. 19


This and the following drawing (FT326) show not Lake Como, as Towne’s inscription indicates, but the small Lago di Mezzola to its north. Presumably this sketch, like FT326, was drawn on the morning of 28 August after Towne had set out north from Domaso to Chiavenna, a few miles away. Both Burnet and Coxe named the lake after Chiavenna, and according to Coxe, “Most of the maps of the lake of Como are erroneous, in representing that lake and the Larghetto di Chiavenna as one great piece of water, and the Adda as flowing into the former; whereas the two lakes are distinct bodies.”1 As Coxe inserted this clarification into the 1789 edition, it would not have been available to Towne in 1781; perhaps therefore he relied for this inscription on one of the inaccurate maps to which Coxe alluded. At any rate among Towne’s possessions at his death was a map of “Swisserland” and one of Italy. 

The high peak in the distance is Sasso Manduino flanked to the right by Monte Frasnedo. To the left, Towne has used part of Monte Avedée to enclose the view, although in fact it stands somewhat left of the view.

The mount line, which is thin and shaky, and the hatchings on mountains are signs of much later work.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Coxe 1789, vol.3, p.13.

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