Towne travelled to the Lake District in August 1786 with his Exeter friends James White and John Merivale. They spent just over two weeks in the area, arriving around 7 August and departing on or after the 23rd. For the first ten days they stayed at Ambleside, on Lake Windermere, and from this base Towne and his companions explored both this lake and the other southern lakes which could be reached on a day trip, Coniston and Elterwater.
Towne had with him two sketchbooks of different sizes, and also a portfolio of larger sheets of paper. The larger of the two sketchbooks contained forty drawings, almost all inscribed and dated, which makes it possible to reconstruct the progress of the party in some detail.
16 August, the date on the present watercolour, was in fact the last day Towne spent on Lake Windermere; the following day, he set off northwards to Keswick, through Grasmere, Rydal and the Vale of St John. Towne evidently wanted to make the most of his final hours on Windermere, and the beautifully clear evening. The drawing preceding the present sheet, numbered 27 is a double-page view looking down the length of the lake, inscribed, 4 oclock in the afternoon’ (Huntington Library; Tate 1997, p. 114, fig. 36). Later that evening he made two more drawings, including the present sheet. Both were made after sunset, looking west, with the cloudless sky still lit by the afterglow. The receding ranges of moutains are painted in subtly graduated tones of grey, giving an image of perfect serenity to the end of the day and Towne’s farewell to the lake. After making the present drawing, numbered '28' Towne completed yet another, numbered ‘29’. Staying in the same spot, at Low Wood, a couple of miles south of Ambleside, he looked slightly more to the south, towards Coniston. This was inscribed, on the back of the artist's mount 'taken after the sun was s[et] on the right hand side'’, and is now in the Paul Mellon Collection in the Yale Center for British Art.
Unusually for the time, Towne began to take pages out of this sketchbook very soon after his return to London. He made a note on the mount of one that it was removed in 1786. Both of the sunset views of Windermere were mounted in 1791, and they stayed together, in various collections, including the Worsley collection, until the 1970s. Their first owner, Arthur Champernowne, of Dartington Hall, was an avid collector of pictures, both Old Masters and contemporary British art. When Joseph Farington was a guest at the Hall in 1809, he remarked on seeing various drawings which could have included his works by Francis Towne hung on the walls.