Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A Welsh Scene, Perhaps near Aberddwlas
  • Aberddwla in North Wales
Pencil, pen and ink, watercolour, a little gum on laid paper
  • image width 210mm,
  • image length 273mm
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “No.8 F.Towne delt 1777”
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No8 / A scene near Aberddwla North Wales / drawn on the spot by Francis Towne.” 
  • in black ink
  • sheet, verso, upper centre
  • A long and indistinct inscription on the top edge is visible through the sheet
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it reverted 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 (BP103). It descended to Mrs E. W. Evans (sister of John Merivale of 54 Eaton Square, London; see also 250), who sold it (with 405, 623) on 1 December 1965 to Agnew’s (no.5731). On 17 January 1966 (March 1966 according to Yale files) Agnew’s sold it for £750 to Paul Mellon (1907–1999), who gave it to the current owner, the Yale Center for British Art (B1975.4.1414; gift to Yale, December 1975).

Associated People & Organisations

Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, December 1975
Mr Paul Mellon (1907 - 1999), 17 January 1966, GBP 750
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 1 December 1965, no. 5731
Mrs E. W. Evans, London
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP103
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP103
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
[?] Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 24 as 'Aberddwla in North Wales'
British Watercolor Drawings in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1971, no. 42
Hon John Byng, The Torrington Diaries, Eyre & Spottiswode: 1934, p. 300
William Gilpin, Observations on the River Wye and Several Pars of South Wales &c relative chiefly to picturesque beauty, made in the Summer of the Year 1770: London, 1782, p. 72


Had Towne not located the view in North Wales, it would make sense to think of this drawing and two others (FT074FT075) as depicting Aberdulais (spelt “Aberddwlas” in Welsh) just outside Neath, in South Wales, on the grounds of its close phonetic similarity to the inscription, the similarity of the Welsh spelling, and the popularity of a mill and waterfall there among artists and others who visited in the late eighteenth century (for example de Loutherbourg’s visit of 1786 or 1800, and Turner’s visit of 1795, although John Byng, visiting in 1787, remarked, “I do not recollect to have ever heard of this little charmer, of its ever being noticed by Welsh tourists, who follow each other like sheep in a beaten path”1). William Gilpin recommended the Neath countryside to artists during a brief visit in 1770: “Many of the objects, which had floated so rapidly past us, if we had had time to examine them, would have given us sublime, and beautiful hints in landscape: some of them seemed even well combined, and ready prepared for the pencil.”2 The Yale Center for British Art calls this drawing Near Aberddeola, although that is not a recognized place name in Wales. It may be that Towne labelled the drawing “North Wales” in the sense that it was drawn on his tour to North Wales, in much the same way that, in his 1805 exhibition catalogue, drawings of Tintern Abbey and Glastonbury Abbey that had been made on this tour were grouped under the heading “Views in North Wales”, even though they were clearly nowhere near North Wales. No other identifiable South Wales views are known, however. Towne’s three views have close similarities with a drawing by John Baptist Malchair of Bwlch y Groes, which, being a few miles south of Bala, Towne could well have drawn on 27 June, the date inscribed on one of the three (FT074).3

circa 1795, grey wash over pencil, on laid paper

Figure 1.
John Baptist Malchair, Bwlch y Groes, circa 1795, grey wash over pencil, on laid paper

Digital image courtesy of Sotheby's

There has been confusion over the dating as well as the subject of Towne’s three Aberddwlas drawings. In the Barton Place catalogue two are given the date of 27 June 1777, and the third (FT075) no date. Paul Oppé’s more detailed notes of these drawings give only a date of 23 June for the third sketch, said by the Barton Place catalogue to have no date. The second drawing (FT074) is, however, certainly dated 27 June, and the drawing catalogued here, the first, has no date. As Towne dated his view of Lake Bala 27 June (FT072), Aberddwla would probably be in its vicinity if its date and that of FT074 are to indicate that they were sketched on the same day. 

Oppé described BP103 thus: “Aberdwlas No8 Cottage against big hill. Lakes but less effective. . . . [indistinct]”. BP104a was “No.9 Aberdwlas, practically the same size. more distant view of No.8 103 framed No.8 F.Towne delt 1777”.4 It seems safe to identify this and the next drawing, FT074, which is essentially the same scene taken a little further along the road and over the bridge, as BP103 and 104a. A third Aberddwlas drawing (FT075) is BP104b.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Byng 1934, I, p.300.
  2. 2 Gilpin 1782, p.72.
  3. 3 John Baptist Malchair, Bwlch y Groes, ca. 1795 (Sothebys, 22 November 2007, lot 129).
  4. 4 Paul Oppé records: notes, ca. 1915.

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