Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Walensee
ca. 1781/09/01
Pencil, pen and brown ink, grey wash
  • image width 155mm,
  • image length 210mm
  • sheet, verso
  • “Lake of Walenstadt / # / taken from Wesen / Septr 1st. 1781 / morning / Light from the right hand / No.47 / Francis Towne”
  • in dark brown ink over pencil, except “taken [...] 1781” in light brown ink only and “No.47 [...] Towne” in dark brown ink only; the whole inscription upside down in relation to the drawing
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Christie's 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 granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP73). Judith Merivale framed it in 1935 and, as the Barton Place catalogue contains no note of its sale, she may have retained it until her death. It was on sale at Spink where it was acquired in January 1947 for £45 by Sir William Worsley, Bt (1890–1973), whose family sold it at Christie’s on 5 June 2003, lot 46.

Associated People & Organisations

Private Collection, 5 June 2003
Christie's, London, London, 5 June 2003, lot 46
Sir William Worsley (1890 - 1973), January 1947, GBP 45
Spink & Son, London, London
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP73
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP73
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
Watercolours by Francis Towne, City Art Gallery, 1950, no. 23
Three Centuries of British Water-colours, Arts Council, 1951, no. 192
Early English Water Colours, Leeds City Art Gallery, 8 October 1958 to 23 November 1958, no. 98
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 10
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 142
Sir William Worsley, Early English Water-Colours at Hovingham Hall: 1963, p. 10
William Coxe, Travels in Switzerland in a Series of Letters to William Melmouth Esq, T. Cadell: London, 1789, vol 1, pp. 40-42


The Walensee is a long and narrow lake north-east of the valley of Glarus. Here Towne is at the far western end of the lake at a town called Weesen. His view looks broadly east along the length of the lake towards the mountains on the northern shore. The tallest summit, at the centre of the view, is the Leistkamm, evident also in views by John Robert Cozens (fig.1, in the Huntingdon Library, Acc. no.59.55.373) and John “Warwick” Smith. Coxe called the scenery

uncommonly wild and picturesque, and affords a perpetual variety of beautiful and romantic scenes. On the side of Glarus, the mountains which form its borders, are chiefly cultivated. . . . On the other side, for the most part, the rocks are grotesque, craggy, inaccessible, and perpendicular: but here and there a few cultivated necks of land are formed at the very edge of the lake, and at the bottom of these very rocks; exhibiting a beautiful contrast to the barrenness above and around them.1

In his 1815 letter Towne uses a “#” symbol to link one passage of text to another. It is possible, therefore, that this drawing is part of a larger panoramic work, another portion of which contains an inscription linked to this one. Towne made his sketch from a place where the entire length of the lake was visible and which has subsequently become the standard viewing point for the lake. 

pen and watercolor

The dates on the two drawings of the Walensee, 1 and 4 September (FT335), make Towne’s movements difficult to determine. It is possible, though, that the lighter brown ink, with no pencil underneath, indicates that the drawing was dated some time later, possibly in error. In the typescript catalogue of the Oppé collection, FT335 was dated 2 September.2 It is much more likely, though, that Towne visited the lake twice, at the beginning and end of his excursion to Glarus. He was at the southern end of Glarus on 3 September, having already sketched all the sights of the valley; the following day, therefore, he would have been retracing his steps back through the valley towards Weesen and on (probably) to Zurich.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Coxe 1789, vol.1, pp.40–42.
  2. 2 Copy in the Prints and Drawings study room, Tate Britain.

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