- Museum number
Falls of the Pissevache in the Pays de Valais, Switzerland; alpine landscape with a road, buildings and figures in lower r, below mountain cliffs with narrow waterfall, break in mountains to left
Watercolours over slight graphite sketch, with some pen and brown and grey ink
- Production date
Height: 296 millimetres
Width: 445 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The attribution is based on the similarity of style to a group of drawings by Mary Mitford belonging to a descendant which were sold by Abbott and Holder c.1990. She was sister to William Gilpin's pupils William Mitford and his brother Lord Redesdale. The group of drawings sold earlier contained a number of alpine scenes which had been copied from prints and Mary Mitford may not have actually visited Switzerland herself.
She may have known views of Pissevache in the Pays de Valais by William Pars (in P&D there is a very similar view by him titled The valley of Lauterbrunnen, and the Staubbach 1870-5-14-1218) or by John 'Warwick' Smith. A lovely watercolourof Pissevache by the latter was included in Martin Gregory's catalogue of English Watercolours 65 (Bury St, St. James's, 1995, no. 102 (reproduced p. 63). Smith had accompanied Frances Towne to Italy in 1780 and returned through Switzerland in 1781.
K Sloan, Noble Art 2000
The attribution of this watercolour to Mary Mitford is based on its similarity to a group of six drawings signed by her which were sold by Abbott and Holder in July 1989 and a few others which have appeared at various times, signed M.M.. In 1989, she was not identified but it seems certain that she was the elder sister of two of William Gilpin's pupils and later friends, Colonel William Mitford (1744-1827) and his brother John, later 1st Baron Redesdale (1748-1830). Along with two other sisters, they were the children of John Mitford (m.1740, d.1761) of Newton House and Exbury, Hampshire, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn. His sons followed his profession, William becoming a MP and author of A History of Greece which he was encouraged to write by Edward Gibbon, and John eventually becoming attorney-general and Speaker of the House. In 1776 Gilpin proudly described them, like William Lock of Norbury (cat. 161), as being educated 'only at Cheam'. John Mitford's travel journals and sketchbooks are in the Gloucester Record Office: some of the pencil sketches were made on his Grand Tour in 1776-7 but the rest are nearly all local views in pen and ink, dated to the late 1770s and all showing a debt to Gilpin's method of composing landscapes. William Mitford was also a draughtsman although none of his works appear to survive. Gilpin took particular note of his talents as 'a soldier, a country-gentleman, a farmer, a sportsman, very musical, well skilled in painting, at the head of a family of six children and not yet thirty years of age.'(Bodleian, MSS Eng. Misc. d. 570, f. 54) It was William who offered him the living at Boldre in Hampshire when Gilpin retired from Cheam in 1778.
Nothing, however, is known of Mary except her watercolours. They include views in Italy and France (dated 1770 and 1774), Nottingham (1774), Southampton, Fowey in Cornwall and Holland. Many of them are Alpine views like the present work, especially of the Appenines, some are signed in full and some only with her initials. It seems certain, however, that Mary Mitford did not travel abroad and her watercolours must have been copied from the works of her drawing master or masters. William Marlow's (1740-1813) name has been suggested, and certainly her manner of drawing trees and buildings is very close; but similar views by him haven't been identified and he was not known to have taken pupils. The view of Nottingham is close to Paul Sandby's work while the present view is similar in colour, style and approach to Michel-Vincent Brandoin (see cat. 129). The last two artists were taking private pupils in London in the 1760s and early 1770s and either might have taught this very talented amateur.
Literature: Barbier, pp. 49-55, 173; DBVI for John Mitford
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2000 May-Sep, BM P&D, 'A Noble Art', no.130
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number