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

Lake of Wallenstadt, between the cantons of St Gall and Glarus, East Switzerland

Francis Towne (1739-1816)
Lake of Wallenstadt, between the cantons of St Gall and Glarus, East Switzerland
signed, inscribed, dated and numbered 'Lake of Walenstadt [sic]/taken from Wesen/Septr 1st. 1781/morning/light from the right hand/Noo 47/Francis Towne' (on the reverse) and with inscription '73 BP' (on the reverse, in the hand of Paul Oppé)
pen and brown and grey ink, grey wash
6¼ x 8 3/8 in. (15.7 x 21.3 cm.)
J.H. Merivale, and by descent in the family.
with Spink, London, where purchased by Sir William A. Worsley, January 1947, £45 and by descent in the family.
A. Bury, Francis Towne Lone Star of Water-colour Painting, London, 1962, p. 142.
W.A. Worsley, Early English Watercolours at Hovingham Hall, 1963, no. 53.
York, City of York Art Gallery, Watercolours of Francis Towne, January 1950, no. 23.
London, Arts Council, Three Centuries of British Water-colours and Drawings, 1951, no. 192.
Leeds, Exhibition of Early English Watercolours, 1958, no. 98.
London, Tate Gallery, and Leeds, Leeds City Art Gallery, Francis Towne, 24 June 1997-4 January 1998, no. 39.
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Lot Essay

For Richard Gray, who toured Switzerland in 1791, the 'Lake of Wallenstadt assumes somewhat of a solemn cast from the black and gloomy mountains which overshadow its surface'. (Gray, 1794, p.113). The English artists who visited the lake were less purely subjective in their reactions and showed a marked interest in the shape of these mountains. The distinctive profile of the Leistchamm, studied here so intently by Towne, is also immediately recognisable in the centre of J.R. Cozens's view, made on his tour of Switzerland in the company of Richard Payne Knight in 1776 (versions in the Ashmolean Museum and the Huntington Library, San Marino, California); it is also seen from the side in a watercolour by 'Warwick' Smith formely in the Oppé Collection. Both artists captured something of its unusual, angular profile, but in Towne's drawing the precise observation of the rock formation was taken to an entirely new level. What Towne created was, in effect, a portrait of a mountain, one of the most singular conglomerations of peaks, plateaus and boulders he could have encountered.

In selecting this particuarly misshapen mountain for scrutiny Towne seemed to reveal a knowledge of the volcanic theories advanced by Gruner, according to which the formation of mountains was the result of the violent collision of moving masses on earth. Not content simply to illustrate the Leistchamm's bizarre exposed strata, Towne was determined to examine his specimen under raking morning light. With judicious and sparing application of simple grey wash, all the mountain's singularities were exposed to view. In his journey through the Alps Towne did not simply respond emotionally; he thought intently about what he saw.


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