Wordsworth Trust acquires two Romantic landscape paintings for Dove Cottage

By Richard Moss | 27 February 2013
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The Wordsworth Trust has acquired two Romantic landscape paintings which it will display at Dove Cottage, the former Lakeland home of Romantic poet William Wordsworth.

a view of a lake looking across towards hills and mountains
Thomas Girtin, Lake Windermere and Belle Isle, c.1792-3.© The Wordsworth Trust
The watercolours, by Francis Towne (1739-1816) and Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), show views of Coniston and Windermere in the Lake District in the late 18th Century. Both offer a glimpse into a developing Romantic view of the area very much in keeping with Wordsworth’s notion of Lakeland's “unspoilt paradise of peace and rusticity”.

Girtin’s Lake Windermere and the Belle Isle (1792 - 3), is however something of a fiction. The painter, who was a friend and contemporary of JMW Turner, made several studies of the area but never visited, preferring to copy and enhance work by other artists. In this case, the work derives from an earlier watercolour by his teacher and topographical watercolourist Edward Dayes.

But Girtin's was a considerable talent, cut short by death from respiratory illness at the age of 27. He enjoyed some success in his day and is now credited as a pioneer of the British Romantic landscape tradition.

And although this version of the vista across Lake Windermere towards the surrounding hills and fells is from relatively early in his short career it contains trace elements of both the traditional topographical styles prevalent at the time and the warmer palettes and spaciousness of the Romantic style he later developed.

By contrast, the career and work of Francis Towne (1739 – 1816) was less well known in his lifetime, but in 1786 he did visit the area on a painting tour with friends and began work on a superb series of around 60 watercolours which he gradually worked up over a period of nearly 20 years.

His pencil, ink and watercolour, Lake of Coniston (1786) is a beautifully understated panorama boasting an individual style that Lakeland’s most famous son, William Wordsworth, would have instantly warmed to.

Wordsworth moved to Dove cottage with his sister Dorothy in 1799. From 1802 the siblings lived there with Wordsworth's wife Mary and her sister and the couple had three children before moving into more spacious accomodation in 1808. Many of the poet's famous works were penned during his time there.

The writer and opium addict Thomas de Quincey then moved in but it was eventually acquired by the Wordsworth Trust who opened it as a museum in 1891. Today it welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

Prior to all of that it was a public house. Perhaps Towne and his travelling companions stopped for some welcome refreshment on their picturesque painting tour. Perhaps not, but either way both paintings have now found a perfectly apposite setting. 

a watercolour panorama showing hills and peaks beyond the wooded shoreline of a lake
Francis Towne, Lake of Coniston,1786.© The Wordsworth Trust
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