Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Elter Force, near Ambleside
  • Elter Force, near the Ambleside Fall
  • Elter Force, Westmorland
Pencil, pen and brown and grey inks, watercolour
  • image width 265mm,
  • image length 381mm
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “F.Towne. delt. / 1786”
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “morning light from the left hand / Elter Force near Ambleside / Westmorland drawn on / the spot by Francis Towne. 1786 / Leicester Square / London / 1790”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Museum records (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed 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 (BP143). Around 1937 Judith Merivale tried to sell it through Agnew’s but it was returned to them unsold that year. It was in the collection of B. C. Pritchard prior to its sale at Christie’s on 14 August 1942 for 22 guineas to Meatyard (many thanks to Timothy Wilcox for this information). By 1945 it was owned by Donald Henderson, who gave it that year to the current owner, the National Gallery of Art, Victoria (Acc. no.1482-4).

Associated People & Organisations

National Gallery National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1945, no.1482-4
Donald Henderson, 1945
Meatyard, 14 August 1942, GBP 22 guineas
Christie's, London, 14 August 1942
B. C. Pritchard
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP143
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP143
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. 52 as 'Elter Force, Westmoreland or 89, as Elter Force'
Annual Water Colour Exhibition 1926, The Judge's Lodgings, Winchester, 1926, no. 122
Annual Exhibition of Water-Colours & Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1934, no. 75 as 'Elter Force, near the Ambleside Fall (1786)'
[?] Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour & Pencil Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1937, no. 82 as 'Elter Force, Westmorland (1786)'
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 116


Towne’s “Elter Force” is more commonly known as Skelwith Force, part of the River Brathay as it flows out of the west end of Elterwater, a small lake just east of the hamlet of Skelwith Bridge near Ambleside. Towne has made a topographically accurate view of the waterfall and its rocks, occupying the lower half of the work, but has rearranged the upper half of the composition to give the falls a more effective backdrop. He has set woods on the other bank of the river far back from the falls, making them appear small and further away than in the actual scene. Lingmoor Fell—the mountain in the distance—the edges of Elterwater itself, and the Langdale Pikes in the extreme-right distance are not visible from Skelwith Force, but the intervening land is here opened up to provide the viewer with a horizon and to place the waterfall in the context of well-known natural features. It seems likely that Towne made a sketch of the falls, then walked along the path towards Elterwater, where at some point he sketched the upper half of this work. Towne made other sketches of the waterfall and lake on 12 August (FT472, FT473, FT497FT523 is undated).

Agnew’s files state that a drawing of Elter Force was sold to them (no.2333) in February 1937 by Mary Ann Loveband for £8, which they sold on 16 February 1937 to Mrs Bruce Wills or Willis for £12 12s. If this is correct, then either a third drawing called Elter Force exists (not catalogued here) or else, having failed to sell it through Agnew’s, the Misses Merivales gave this drawing to their cousin Mary Ann Loveband, who sold it very shortly afterwards. Certainly Judith Merivale had considered selling it as early as 1931, when Winslow Ames, the first Director of the Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, USA, had visited her. She described the work then as “Coloured – Waterfall with cubistic Rocks” and asked Paul Oppé—who was advising her on prices—to take into account that it was one of her favourites (he recommended asking £60).1

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Paul Oppé records: letter from Judith Merivale to Oppé, 5 June 1931.

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.