Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • On Top of Mount Splugen
ca. 1781/08/29
Pencil (?), pen and brown ink, watercolour
  • image width 210mm,
  • image length 155mm
laid paper with stitch marks along the (long) left edge
  • sheet, recto, upper left
  • “snow”
  • in brown ink over pencil
  • verso
  • along the long (unstitched) edge of the sheet “On the top of Mount Splugen / Light from the left hand / August 29th 1781 / No.40 / Francis Towne”
  • in brown ink over pencil, the writing in brown ink much smaller and tighter than the pencil; with further brown and grey ink lines indicating clouds and mountain ridges, associated with FT332
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the work


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 granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP64). In July 1935 Judith Merivale sold it to Sir Montagu Montagu-Pollock (1864–1938), whose son Sir William Montagu-Pollock (1903–1993) sold it at Sotheby’s on 18 March 1964, lot 26, for £750 to Agnew’s (no.3998). On 23 July 1964 Agnew’s sold it to a private collector. In 1970 it was given anonymously to the current owner, Rhode Island School of Design (70.118.52).

Associated People & Organisations

Thomas Agnew & Sons
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844)
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945)
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928)
Sir Montagu Montagu-Pollock (1864 - 1938)
Sir William Montagu-Pollock (1903 - 1993)
Rhode Island Museum of Art, School of Design
Sotheby's, London
James White (1744 - 1825)
William Hauptman, Magnificent Switzerland: Views by Foreign Artists 1770-1914, Electa: Milan, 1991, p. 64
William Coxe, Travels in Switzerland in a Series of Letters to William Melmouth Esq, T. Cadell: London, 1789, vol 3, p. 161


Given Towne’s inscription, this is probably the plain described by William Coxe as being near the summit of Mount Splugen: “Toward the summit of the Splugen there is an oval plain about two miles long and one broad, encircled with craggy points: it produces no trees, but yields rich pasturage. Near the summit I noticed several rude blocks of a whitish kind of marble.”1

The scene shows a fast-flowing torrent over which a couple of figures stand on a rudimentary crossing. Around them the mountains crowd the page, and a cloud hovers not far above ground. There is only a small area of blue sky. The washes are uncharacteristically shoddy, somewhat in the manner of the sketch of a Claude Lorrain painting that was probably made in the later 1780s or 1790s (FT805). They were surely applied that night. 

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Coxe 1789, vol.3, p.161.

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