The Cotman Collection | A Mountain Lake with Cattle Watering: Caled 'Llyn Ogwen', North Wales

John Sell Cotman

A Mountain Lake with Cattle Watering: Caled 'Llyn Ogwen', North Wales
c 1823

A Mountain Lake with Cattle Watering: Caled 'Llyn Ogwen', North Wales
Artist: John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842
Title: A Mountain Lake with Cattle Watering: Caled 'Llyn Ogwen', North Wales
Date: c 1823
Object name: Watercolour
Medium: Graphite and sepia washes on wove paper
Support: White, wove paper
Reference: LEEAG.PA.1949.0009.0701
Credit Line: Bequeathed by Sydney Decimus Kitson, 1949

This is a careful and sensitive studio sepia watercolour composition of lake amongst mountains. The lake stretches across the foreground and into the mid-distance. In the left foreground is a herd of cattle with some cows standing in the water and others on the shore. In the left background is a large, dark, craggy hill, receding in bands of tone along a valley side into the distance right. The sky opens light over the valley, under dark clouds overhead. Kitson's 1937 catalogue notes an inscription on the verso, which he suggests might be in the Rev J Bulwer's hand, 'Near Ogwen Pool, Capel Curig, North Wales'.

Llyn Ogwen is one of the highlights of Snowdonia, and lies on the main road between Bangor and Betws y Coed. It is surrounded by high mountains, principal amongst them being the rock-littered Tryfan, but it is difficult to exactly marry the details of the composition to the actual forms of hills around the lake. The closest match would be from the road half-way along the south shore, looking west towards Elidir Fawr (left) and Carnedd y Filiast (centre).

Kitson (Life, p.43) describes Cotman visiting the site in 1802 in the company of follow-artist Paul Sandby Munn. Kitson owned a sketch by Munn dated 31 July 1802 which formed part of his bequest that was given to the Victoria and Albert Museum (E.217-1939). Kitson also cites a watercolour of the subject by Munn that he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803, and which was then in the collection of Randall Davies.

In about 1803 Cotman painted a broodingly Turnerian version of the scene, now in a private collection:

Cotman first perfected his of sepia washes in a series of about a hundred watercolours made for engraving in a book 'Excursions in Norfolk' published 1818-19. The Leeds collection includes a particularly fine example from that series, 'Blakeney Church and Wiveton Hall' (LEEAG.1949.0009.0650). He applied the same approach to the watercolours made for etching in his major series of etchings 'Architectural Antiquities of Normandy'. The Leeds collection has three examples from that series, one subject being particularly comparable, 'Cherbourg, the Montagne du Roule from the banks of La Divette' (LEEAG.1938.0029.0029). After the Normandy volumes were published in 1822, Cotman seems to have re-engaged with his old Welsh sketches. The present example might indicate that he was considering making a new series of etchings. As it transpired he did etch quite a number of Welsh subjects in this period, but rather as softground etchings rather than line. Leeds has several examples of these, but the subject of 'Tan y Bwlch' is particularly well represented (see LEEAG.19949.0009.0670).

At least one other Welsh subject in sepia from the same period is known, a composition of the 'Vale of Tan y Bwlch', recently with Abbot and Holder in London:

Leeds has another watercolour of about the same period called 'Llyn Ogwen' (LEEAG.1949.0009/0926). This in turn is related to a watercolour at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (153). There is also a further watercolour composition at Rhode Island School of Design (Cormack no.88).

David Hill, November 2017

I am grateful to Jeremy Yates for sharing his observations on this subject.