Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Vale of Tan y Bwlch
Pencil, pen and grey and black inks, grey wash
  • image width 276mm,
  • image length 440mm
paper has a creasemark down the centre
  • sheet, verso
  • “No50 / The vale of Tan y Bwlch / July the 7th 1777 / Drawn on the Spot by Francis Towne” and bottom right “mi / 9 / –”
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; 1998 Gifu 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 (BP109b). Judith Merivale sold it for £6 6s. to Squire Gallery in November 1934, where it was bought by Sir Leonard Twiston Davies (1894/1895–1953), who presented it in January 1936 to the present owner, the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (NMWA3150).

Associated People & Organisations

National Museum Wales, Cardiff, Cardiff, January 1936, NMWA3150
Sir Leonard Twiston Davies (1894/95 - 1953), 1934
Squire Gallery, London, November 1934, GBP 6 6s
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP109b
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP109b
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
A Picturesque Tour Through Wales 1675-1855: watercolours from the collection of the National Museums & Galleries of Wales, Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, 1998, no. 52
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 137
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. 121-122
Hon John Byng, The Torrington Diaries, Eyre & Spottiswode: 1934, I, pp. 155, 158


In Towne’s drawing, taken from Maentwrog or perhaps from the inn at Ffestiniog, the house of Plas Tan y Bwlch (owned in 1777 by a widow Griffiths) is on the right, and the left portion of the drawing shows the River Dwyryd flowing downstream to the Traeth Bach. In Grimm’s engraving of ca. 1781 the house is at the far left and the upstream landscape is shown. A stereoscope photograph by Francis Bedford, ca. 1865, corresponds broadly with the right half of Towne’s drawing and is called “Plas Tan y Bwlch from the Harlech Road”.

Wyndham recommended the site to artists thus:

TAN Y BWLCH is a single house, in the parish of Festiniogg, and stands 3 miles below it: the river Drydrd divides the inn from the parish church of Mainturhwyg (the little cleft). It lies in a deep and narrow valley, between mountains, moderately cloathed with wood, excepting near the house, where the sylvan walks, amid the craggy precipices, are extremely picturesque. Few places would afford a more charming retreat to those, who delight in romantic nature, than this sequestered spot. Such a various and abundant scenery of mountains, woods, ruins, cataracts and lakes surround it, that nothing seems wanting to Tan y Bwlch, but a serener sky, to make it as rich a study for a painter, as the neighbourhood of Frescati or Tivoli.1

However, John Byng, though “charm’d with the richness, and diversity of the prospect”, considered that

The vale has, (in my opinion,) been puff’d off beyond its deservings, by the pens of fanciful writers; and is in fact not worthy of such fiction, being very inferior to some spots we have lately seen; for the river is meanly-meandering and so shallow, and full of shoals at low water, that a lady might cross it on foot. Mrs Griffids house is surrounded by beauties it does not enjoy; as it takes the worst part of the view, and there are no walks, or rides, cut in the wood.2
by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Wyndham 1781, pp.121–22.
  2. 2 Byng 1934, vol.1, pp.155, 158.

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