Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Lake Windermere from near Low Wood
Pencil, pen and brown and grey inks, watercolour
  • image width 156mm,
  • image length 470mm
paper watermarked “J WHATMAN”, measuring 322 x 630 mm, and with several pin holes (three at the corners and two some way off)
two sheets mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto
  • “No13 / F.Towne / delt. 1786”
  • in black ink
  • artist's mount, verso, upper left
  • “No.13 / afternoon light from the right hand”, and top centre, “The lake of Windermere taken from near Low Wood / August ye 9th. 1786 by / Francis Towne”
  • all in black ink; also “Leicester Square / London / 1790” in brown ink
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughter Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945) of Oxford gave it to the father of Dr Walter Herman Hodgson Merivale (ca. 1918–1971). Dr Merivale’s father was probably Judith Merivale’s nephew Herman Walter Merivale (b.1898), who, according to museum records, owned it before Paul Mellon. It was presumably therefore Dr Merivale’s wife Josephine who was the Mrs Merivale who sold the drawing on 17 February 1961 to Agnew’s (no.1130) with FT458, FT481, FT512, FT581. On 8 March 1961 Agnew’s sold it for £700 to Paul Mellon (1907–1999), who gave it to the current owner, the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven (B.1975.4.1878; gift to Yale, December 1975).

Associated People & Organisations

Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, December 1975, B.1975.4.1878
Mr Paul Mellon (1907 - 1999), 17 February 1961, GBP 700
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 17 February 1961, no.1130
[?] Josephine Merivale
Sold by 'Mrs Merivale' to Agnew's (no.1128) with FT568, FT481, FT512, FT581
[?] Dr Walter Herman Hodgson Merivale (ca. 1918 - 1971)
[?] Herman Walter Merivale (1898)
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
[?] Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 81 or 82 as 'Windermere near Low-Wood'
Painting in England 1700-1850, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1963, no. 72
A Loan Exhibition of English Drawings and Watercolours from the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon of Upperville, Virginia, Colnaghi, 1964, no. 54
Selected Paintings, Drawings and Books, Yale Center for British Art, 1977, no. 46
Selected Watercolors, Yale Center for British Art, 1980
Fairest Isle, Yale Center for British Art, 1989, no. 41
Glorious Nature: British Landscape Painting 1750-1850, Denver Art Museum, 1993, no. 26
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 49
The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century, Yale Center for British Art, 2001, no. 53
English Drawings and Watercoours, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1965, no. 54
Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque, Scolar: Aldershot, 1989, p. 157


Low Wood, around a mile south of Ambleside on the east bank of Lake Windermere, was a popular spot from which to view the lake. For this drawing Towne was standing on the beach at Holme Crag and looking south; the inn, more prominent in a sketch drawn a week later (FT482), is visible on the shore, at the centre of the left sheet. A sketch made by Peter Rashleigh (1746–1836) in 1780 shows exactly the same scene as Towne’s drawing.1 In this work Towne has elongated the mid-ground shore, making the inn and other features seem very distant from the viewer, while at the same time raising the height of the left- and right-hand hills. In the centre of the image Towne has also introduced an entirely fictional hill to give a distant point on which the viewer’s eye can focus amid an otherwise bare horizon. The warm brown bank of trees at the left of the drawing contrasts with the cooler blue/green of the hills on the right. There is a hint of yellow above the trees on the left.

Towne also drew FT467 during the morning of 9 August.

by Richard Stephens

In the summer of 1786, the year of Gilpin's publication of his tour of the Lakes, Francis Towne undertook his own tour with two friends, one of whom was the first owner of this watercolor of Windermere. In a two week period they visited most of the lakes, and Towne filled two sketchbooks with drawings. Rather than consider these drawings as preliminary for other finished watercolors, Towne chose to work up the sketchbook pages themselves with watercolor and pen and ink outlines, extract the pages from the sketch book, and mount them as finished drawings (the date of 1790 on the back of the mount indicates the year Towne mounted the drawing). Although the watercolors have a carefully considered, even stylized appearance, the Towne scholar Timothy Wilcox maintains that, by retaining the format of the sketchbook page and by adding the insistent pen outlines, Towne was drawing attention to their origins as sketches done on the spot.

by Richard Stephens 01 Jul 2007


  1. 1 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1996.501).

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