Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of the Salmon Leap from Pont Aberglaslyn
  • Salmon Leap at Pont Abberglaslin
Pencil, pen and grey ink, watercolour
  • image width 281mm,
  • image length 218mm
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “No.23 / F.Towne / delt 1777” in brown ink, the “2” of “23” partially erased
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.23 Morning light from the right hand. A View of the Salmon Leap from Pont Aberglasllyn. Drawn on the spot by Francis Towne 1777 [over an erased inscription] Leicester Sqre, London.”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Bury; Tate 1997 catalogue (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 (BP112), and in 1921 they gave it to Paul Oppé (1878–1957), who in turn bequeathed it to Aydua Scott-Elliot (1909–2003), who gave it in 1999 it to the current owner, the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (D.1999.22).

Associated People & Organisations

Manchester Museum & the Whitworth, University of Manchester, Manchester, 1999, D.1999.22
Aydua Scott-Elliot, 1957
Adolph Paul Oppé (1878 - 1957), London, 1921
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP112
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP112
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. 30 as 'Salmon Leap at Pont Abberglaslin'
Catalogue of a collection of pictures, drawings, furniture and works of art of the Empire and Regency period : select examples of Romano-British art, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1929, no. 30
British Art, Royal Academy, 1934, no. 625
76th Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1949, no. 11
Early English Drawings and Watercolours from the Collection of Paul Oppe Esq., Graves Art Gallery, 1952, no. 59
Landscape in Britain, ca. 1750-1850, Tate Gallery, 1973, no. 103
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 7
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 29, 71-73, 103, 106, 148
Geoffrey Grigson, Britain Observed: The Landscape through Artists' Eyes, Phaidon Press: London, 1975, pp. 85-89
Martin Hardie, Water-Colour Painting in Britain, ed. Dudley Snelgrove, London: B. T. Batsford, 1966, p. 119
Luke Herrmann, British Landscape Painting of the 18th Century, Faber: London, 1973, pp. 75-76
Henri Lemaitre, Le Paysage Anglais a l'Aquarelle 1760-1951, Bordas: Paris, 1955, p. 149-151
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 107
Iolo Aneurin Williams, Early English Watercolours, and some cognate drawings by artists not later than 1785, Connoisseur: London, 1952, p. 88


Just above the bridge over the Aberglaslyn (featured in FT086), Wyndham observed: “The whole river falls down a craggy break, of the height of about twelve feet. This is called the Salmon Leap, and our attention was many times diverted from the majestic scenery around us, by the dexterity of the salmon’s leaping over it.”1 Grimm’s drawing accompanying this description was engraved. John Byng, visiting Pont Aberglaslyn in 1784, wrote:

There are so many descriptions of this place, that I must retire from weak relation, on my part; and only exclaim that the scene is most truly wonderful! A narrow-winding road looking down on a foaming, stoney river; and overhung by the steepest mountains, much extravasated by old lead mines; threat’ning destruction to the astonish’d traveller. Below the bridge, we took a long stand to survey the gigantic products of nature, together with the salmon leap, 6 yards high, up which these fish will fling themselves. Upon the most craggy precipices, we cou’d discover some venerable goats, who did us the honour of gazing down upon us; and added lustre to the honour.2

An early photograph of this landscape (a Francis Bedford stereoview, ca. 1865) offers a comparison with the scene before it was overrun with trees. It confirms that Towne made significant alterations in order to maximize the scale and gloom of the mountains. Where Grimm has remained essentially faithful to the viewed scene, allowing the mountains to recede into the distance, Towne increases their height as they round the corner, blocking light out almost entirely. Unlike Grimm, Towne has also featured as a foreground the edge of the bridge or road, as if to suggest the precipitousness of the scene. Aydua Scott-Elliot suggested that Towne achieved these effects by combining elements from two separate points: he drew the salmon leap itself from a high viewpoint, then adopted a lower viewpoint to draw the mountains and the further portions of the river. This appears to be borne out by comparing the height from which the waterfall is seen here and its position relative to the bridge (ostensibly Towne’s viewpoint) in FT086. Judging by that drawing, Towne would have been far closer to the water than he is here. It is interesting also to compare Towne’s description in these two drawings of the same mountains. In FT086 the mountains to the right of the river recede into the background where here they loom darkly. Here, the mountain on the near side slopes gently to meet the road, whereas in FT086 it falls steeply.


by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Wyndham 1781, p.126.
  2. 2 Byng 1934, I, p.160.

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