Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Pistyll Rhaeadr
  • Pistyll y Rhaider
Pencil, pen and black ink, watercolour
  • image width 302mm,
  • image length 376mm
two sheets of paper watermarked Fleur-de-lis
mounted by the artist on paper measuring 392 x 465mm
  • sheet, recto, lower right
  • “F.Towne / delt 1777 / No.6”
  • in dark brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso, upper left
  • “No.6”, and top centre, “Pistyll y Rhaiadr, / The stream divides the Countys of Denbighshire, & Montgomery, & / the Lordships of Powis, & Chirk, the perpendicular height from which it falls is 240 feet / Drawn [erased space where date would have been] 1777 by Francis Towne.”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records


According to Bury, the drawing was from a Merivale source, then in the collection of Helen Alice Dorothy Barlow (1887/1888–1975; see also 596), before its acquisition by Mr and Mrs William Wycliffe Spooner by 1962 (William Spooner’s dates are 1882–1967, Mrs Spooner outlived him). It was acquired on 17 December 1976 from Somerville & Simpson Ltd, London, for $4,000 by Paul Mellon (1907–1999), who gave it to the current owner, the Yale Center for British Art (B1981.25.2703; gift to Yale, December 1981).

Associated People & Organisations

Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, December 1981, B1981.25.2703
Mr Paul Mellon (1907 - 1999), London, 17 December 1976, USD 4000
Somerville & Simpson Ltd, London, 17 December 1976
William Wycliffe Spooner (1882 - 1967), 1962
Helen Alice Dorothy Barlow (1887/88 - 1975)
[?] John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
According to Bury the drawing was from a Merivale source
Exhibition History
Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 49 as 'Pistyll y Rhaider'
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 6
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 149
Luke Herrmann, British Landscape Painting of the 18th Century, Faber: London, 1973, p. 76
Henry Penruddocke Wyndham, A Tour Through Monmouthshire and Wales Made in the Months of June and July 1774 and in the months of June, July and August 1777: Salisbury, 1781, pp. 186-87


The waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr is about two-thirds of the way from Shrewsbury to Lake Bala, and just north-east of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. The scene was described thus by Wyndham: 

From Llanrhaidr we rode along the banks of the river, on the north side, for nearly five miles, to see the noble cataract, called, by way of eminence, Pistil Rhaidr. The latter word implies a cataract, and the river is so called on account of the rapidity of its torrent, and Pistil signifies a water-spout. On our approach, neither the side of the river, nor the first view of the fall (which we saw at the distance of two miles) gave us any idea adequate to our expectations: but as we advanced, an immense theatre of naked perpendicular rock, opened its grand semicircle to our sight: in the middle of which fell the Rhaidr, in a large body of water, from the amazing height of two hundred and forty feet. This cataract may be divided into three parts: the first fall descends, about one hundred and sixty feet, upon a ridge in the precipice; the water next breaks through a large natural arch of the rock (over which a man might walk, though not without difficulty or danger) and foams into a small bason, about twenty five feet lower; it then rages through a deep groove, and falling forms the river below.1

Towne has perhaps borrowed the figure of 240 feet and the term “perpendicular” from Wyndham’s account. There is a cow drinking from the pool at the bottom of the falls, and a bit higher up a tiny figure fishing, holding a long stick. The big clump of foliage foreground bottom right is picked out in dark washes in a very early 1770s way (reminiscent of FT029FT030).

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Wyndham 1781, pp.186–87.

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