Francis Towne (1739-1816)
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Francis Towne (1739-1816)

Waterfall between Chiavenna and Mount Splügen, Switzerland

Francis Towne (1739-1816)
Waterfall between Chiavenna and Mount Splügen, Switzerland
inscribed, dated and numbered 'No. 14 A water fall between Chiavenne [sic] & Mount Splugen/morning/light from the right hand/August 29th 1781' (on the reverse)
pen and grey and brown ink and brown, pink, grey, olive and pale blue wash, on two joined sheets
18½ x 22 5/8 in. (47 x 57.4 cm.)
J.H. Merivale, and by descent in the family.
Sir Michael Sadler, University College, Oxford.
C.R.N. Routh.
with Agnew's, London, where purchased by Sir William A. Worsley, September 1949, 350 gns and by descent in the family.
A. Bury, Francis Towne Lone Star of Water-colour Painting, London, 1962, pp. 88, 95 and 9142, illustrated p. 92.
W.A. Worsley, Early English Water-Colours at Hovingham Hall, 1963, no. 57.
York, City of York Art Gallery, Watercolours of Francis Towne, January 1950, no. 22.
Scarborough, Scarborough Art Gallery, English Watercolours from four Yorkshire Houses, 1950, no. 13.
London, Agnew's, Geoffrey Agnew Memorial Exhibition, 1988.
Lugano, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Itinerari Sublimi, viaggi d'artisti tra il 1750 e il 1850, 1998, no. 243.
Special notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis
Sale room notice
Please note the present watercolour was sold by the Misses Merivales to the Squire Gallery in 1934, by whom sold to Michael Sadler. It was with Agnew's in 1945 and included in their annual exhibition of that year.

We are grateful to Richard Stephens for providing this information.

Lot Essay

Towne spent 27 August 1781 on Lake Como, and the next day set off to climb up towards to Splügen Pass and into Switzerland. He reached the top two days later, on 29 August. This route was perhaps not one of the classic approaches, but it was the one followed by Towne'’s friend, the artist William Pars, on his tour of the Alps with Lord Palmerston in 1770. The two had renewed their friendship in Rome, and the advice of Pars must have been of considerable value to Towne in planning his own return to England across the Alps. In his account of the tour, Palmerston called these 200 metre-high falls at Madesimo 'one of the finest Waterfalls I ever saw'’, but no painting of it by Pars is known (A. Wilton, William Pars: Journey through the Alps’ Zurich,h 1979, p. 19). Towne was perhaps making up for the lack by painting it on a larger scale than any other subject in the whole of his alpine tour (except a panorama of Lake Geneva, made by joining three smaller sheets; see Tate 1997, cat. 41).

The sketch of the waterfall was made on two sheets of an unusually large sketchbook he took with him, even though the join is scarcely perceptible today, as the artist has married the separate sheets so expertly. Other removed sheets from the same large sketchbook still bear traces of stitch-marks on the longer edge, suggesting that the pages were bound when he used them. This was evidently no handicap, as once he got in amongst the mountains, Towne made almost continuous use of this large paper, so much so, that by 3 September, when he made the drawing numbered '29' ('Patenbruck' in Leeds City Art Gallery), he had used it all up, and had to revert to smaller sheets, often joined together. Other sheets removed from the large book are now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Courtauld Institute and other public and private collections.

When he returned to England, there seems to have been little demand for Towne'’s Swiss views. This subject of the grand waterfall between Chiavenna and Splugen is the exception, as Towne painted two later versions of it, on the same scale. One, signed and dated 1784, formerly in the Oppé collection, was sold Sotheby's, London, 11 November 1982 lot 59 (see Fig. 1); the other, dated 1784 and 1785, formerly in the Gilbert Davies collection, is now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Worsely'’s extraordinary commitment to bringing together related works by Towne is seen again in the fact that he also owned the sheet Towne drew in the large sketchbook immediately before these ones, inscribed, 'Madonna St Giacomo in Chiavenna/Evening Sun from the right hand/August 28th 1871' and numbered '13' (Christie's, London, November 1984, lot 73).
The present watercolour and lots 38 and 47 were in the collection of C.R.N. Routh, a master at Eton College where Sir William Worsley first saw them.


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