Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of the Source of the Arveyron
  • The Source of the Arveyron
ca. 1781/09/16
Pen and brown ink, watercolour, scratching out
  • image width 310mm,
  • image length 210mm
two sheets
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto
  • lower right, “F.Towne delt / No.52 1781”; middle right, “woods”; top right, “glacier”; and bottom left, erased word
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No.52. A View of the source of the Arviron drawn by Francis Towne [erased “Sept 16th 1781”]”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Wilcox 1997 (image)


Untraced until sold anonymously at Foster’s on 27 July 1910, lot 151 (a group with FT228, FT257, FT283, FT284, FT296, FT310, FT318, FT319, FT325, FT326, FT327, FT329, FT330, FT339, FT340, FT361, FT793, FT862), for 25s. to Paul Oppé (1878–1957; no.44), whose descendants sold it in 1996 with the rest of Oppé’s collection to the current owner, the Tate Gallery (T08147).

Associated People & Organisations

Tate, London, 1996, T08147
Adolph Paul Oppé (1878 - 1957), London, 27 July 1910, GBP 25s, no.44
Foster's auctioneers (1883 - 1940), 27 July 1910, lot 151
Sold as a group with FT228, FT257, FT283, FT284, FT296, FT310, FT318, FT319, FT325, FT326, FT327, FT329, FT330, FT339, FT340, FT361, FT793 and a drawing by an unidentified pupil.
Exhibition History
Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 104, as 'A view of the source of the Arveron'
Exhibition of Old Masters in Aid of the National Art-Collections Fund, Grafton Galleries, 1911, no. 162
British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, 1924, no. 3
Catalogue of a collection of pictures, drawings, furniture and works of art of the Empire and Regency period : select examples of Romano-British art, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1929, no. 17
La Peinture Anglaise, Musee Moderne, 1929, no. 177
British Art, Royal Academy, 1934, no. 716
Twee Eeuwen Engelsche Kunst, Stedelijk Museum, 1936, no. 232
La Peinture anglaise, XVIII et XIX siecles, Musee du Louvre, 1938, no. 233
Loan Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings by Francis Towne (1740-1816) The property of A.P. Oppe Esq. C.B., Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1949, no. 23
Early English Drawings and Watercolours from the Collection of Paul Oppe Esq., Graves Art Gallery, 1952, no. 69
L'Aquarelle anglaise 1750-1850, [organised by the British Council at] Musee Rath, Geneva; L'Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Zurich, 1955, no. 112
Exhibition of Works from The Paul Oppe Collection, Royal Academy, 1958, no. 664
The Great Age of British Watercolours 1750-1880, Royal Academy of Arts, 1993, no. 271
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 43
British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection, Tate Gallery, 1997, no. 35
Laurence Binyon, English Water-Colours, A & C Black Ltd: 1933, p. 64
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 96-99, 108, 146
Luke Herrmann, British Landscape Painting of the 18th Century, Faber: London, 1973, p. 78
Arnold Lunn, Switzerland and the English, Eyre & Spottiswoode: London, 1944, p. 71
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, pp. 116, 118-119


This is a view from high up on Montanvert looking down into the Chamonix valley and onto the Glacier du Bois and the source of the River Arveyron, with the Aiguilles Rouges behind. These mountains are shown in hazy blue afternoon light. Towne’s sketch of the Chapeau (FT338), drawn on 16 September, looks towards the same mountains, but in the morning. Other drawings that can be identified with this same day’s work are FT337, FT383, and FT386. Many eighteenth-century visitors climbed Montanvert in order to see the famous Mer de Glace (FT383); typically they travelled on mules for the first hour, before walking for one and a half to two hours more, stopping “frequently to repose and refresh ourselves . . . and to contemplate the rude scenery of the mountains and the vale of Chamouny, through which the shoaly river Arve rimples along”.1 No doubt this watercolour was sketched on one such stop, near the point when the visitors descended their mules and continued their ascent on foot.

This viewpoint was less common than the ground-level representation of the V&A work (FT340), although not entirely unknown. For instance, Turner’s two views of the source use Towne’s viewpoints—such as in this case in his Royal Academy exhibit of 1803 (Yale Center for British Art).

In both of Towne’s views of the source of the Arveyron, the landscape is defined very precisely, which is a sign that they were worked up long after the 1781 visit, although the many fingerprints on this drawing suggest that colouring was not wholly late in date. The much looser colouring of the Chapeau (FT338) was surely executed in or about 1781, and no doubt the work catalogued here was also given some colour about the same time.

As the long list of exhibitions dating from the first half of the twentieth century suggests, this drawing was the foremost example of the “modernist” presentation of Towne that was put forward by Oppé.


by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Robert Gray, Letters during the course of a tour through Germany, Switzerland and Italy, in the years MDCCXCI, and MDCCXCII. With reflections on the manners, London, 1794, p.185.

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