Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Waterfall between Chiavenna and Mount Splugen
ca. 1781/08/29
Pencil, pen and brown/grey ink, brown/grey, green, blue, and brown washes
  • image width 463mm,
  • image length 563mm
two sheets, indistinctly watermarked
  • sheet, verso
  • “No.14 A water fall between Chiavenna & mount Splugen / Morning / light from the right hand / August 29th, 1781”
  • in brown ink over pencil, except “No.14”, which is pencil only, the inscription written along the right vertical edge of the right-hand sheet
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; John Spink (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it reverted 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 (BP58 and BP59). In October 1934 Judith Merivale sold it to Squire Gallery for £30 (Herbert Milling of Squire Gallery visited Judith Merivale in November 1933 and expressed an interest then in buying this drawing), which is probably where Sir Michael Ernest Sadler (1861–1943) bought it. His son Michael Thomas Harvey Sadleir (1888–1957) sold it to Agnew’s (no.3798) on 10 March 1944. On 6 June 1944 Sir Geoffrey Agnew (1908–1986), then a history teacher at Eton, sold the drawing to his colleague there Charles Richard Nairne Routh (1896–1976) for £140; evidently Leonard Duke had wished to buy the drawing as the Agnew’s Drawing Book noted that the item should be sold to “Duke, if ever it comes back”. However, when on 27 July 1949 Routh sold the drawing back to Agnew’s (no.5988), Sir Geoffrey Agnew sold it the same day for £350 less commission of £17 10s. to Sir William Worsley, Bt (1890–1973), whose heirs sold it at Christie’s on 5 June 2003, lot 41, for £60,000 to, presumably, John Spink, who exhibited it for sale in November 2005 and again in 2009 at the Grosvenor Fair, London.

Associated People & Organisations

John Spink, London, June 2009
Exhibited at the Grosvenor Fair, London
John Spink, London, November 2005
[?] John Spink, London, 5 June 2003, GBP 60000
Christie's, London, London, 5 June 2003, lot 41
Sir William Worsley (1890 - 1973), 27 July 1949, GBP 350
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 27 July 1949, no.5988
Charles Richard Nairne Routh (1896 - 1976), 6 June 1944, GBP 140
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 10 March 1944, no.3798
Michael Thomas Harvey Sadleir (1888 - 1957), 1943
Sir Michael Ernest Sadler (1861 - 1943)
Squire Gallery, London, October 1934
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP58 and BP59
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP58 and BP59
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
72nd Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1945, no. 32
Watercolours by Francis Towne, City Art Gallery, 1950, no. 22
English Watercolours from Four Yorkshire Houses 1660-1860, Scarborough Art Gallery, 1950, no. 13
Sir Geoffrey Agnew 1908-1986 Dealer and Connoisseur, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1988, no. 28
Itinerari Sublimi, viaggi d'artisti tra il 1750 e il 1850, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, 1998, no. 243
Francis Towne and his Friends, John Spink at Colnaghi, 2005, no. 3
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 88, 142
Paul Oppé, 'English Watercolours, Messrs Agnews', The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, No. 505: London, 1945, p. 97
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 133
Timothy Wilcox, 'Presenting Francis Towne', British Art Journal, No. 2: 2005, p. 83
Sir William Worsley, Early English Water-Colours at Hovingham Hall: 1963, p. 11


This depicts the River Madesimo falling 700 feet into the valley below, at a point just south of Pianazzo. John “Warwick” Smith also drew this subject.1 The drawing is the largest of Towne’s journey from the lakes into Switzerland, and two later versions are known dated 1784 and 1785 (FT417, FT423). Given Towne’s description of one of these as View Going over Mount Splugen, and its relative popularity in view of the existence of two later images, perhaps this sketch was the basis also for Towne’s 1803 Royal Academy exhibit View of the Passage over Mount Splugen in the Alps (FT627a).

Although, according to Christie’s in 2003, “the artist has married the separate sheets so expertly”,2 the drawing was in two pieces until at least 1915 (and accorded two separate BP numbers, 58 and 59), when Paul Oppé made the following handwritten note of it:

58. very rough large sketch waterfall, rocks & pine. heavy wash lose hue. Painted like Tivoli [FT257] with big splashes of red, violet, green over the dark ind ink. Pines like Cozens. (Michael Sadler Agnews 1945). In two pieces. Huge rocks with water, on L. distance in mountains blue & violet grey. On L in light bright colour ochre to red.3

As the note suggests, Oppé amended his note after seeing the drawing at the Agnew’s watercolour exhibition in 1945, which he reviewed for the Burlington Magazine, observing that it “dominates a whole wall with its monumental simplicity and uncompromising grandeur. It is interesting to note that though its boldness of presentation was certainly too stark for the taste of succeeding generations until the present day, this drawing was among a not very great number selected for repetition by one of Towne’s patrons in the West Country.”4

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Christie’s South Kensington, 5 December 2013, lot 110.
  2. 2 Christie’s auction catalogue, 5 June 2003, note to lot 41.
  3. 3 Paul Oppé records: notes, ca. 1915.
  4. 4 Oppé 1945, p.97.

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.