Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pen and ink on oiled ‘tracing’ paper
  • 14 ⅞ × 17 ⅞ inches · 378 × 454 mm
  • Drawn c. 1770


  • Alexander Cozens (1717-1786), his sale Greenwood, 9 July 1794, 2nd day, lot 20;
  • Miss Charlotte Aynscombe (1760-1799) acquired at the above sale;
  • Katherine Townshend, her cousin, who married the Rev. Thomas Bisse;
  • Col. T.-C. Bisse Challoner (1789-1872), son of the above, who married Henrietta de Salis;
  • The Rev. H. J. de Salis (1828-1915), brother-in-law of the above;
  • Major O. J. de Salis, great grandson of the above, 1982, his sale Christie’s,15 April 1982, part of lot 10;
  • Bt. Christopher Lennox-Boyd, his sale Christie’s 9 July 1991, lot 32;
  • Private Collection to 2009.


  • For the provenance and content of the Aynscombe Album see Kim Sloan, ‘A Cozens Album in the National Museum of Wales’, The Walpole Society, vol. LVII, 1993, pp.88-89.

This large, boldly executed drawing was included in the posthumous sale of Alexander Cozens’s drawings as part of lot 20 on the second day, ‘A Large parcel’ of ‘Studies and sketches’ where it seems to have been acquired by one of Cozens’s amateur pupils, Charlotte Aynscombe.[1]

Almost certainly executed as an exercise to teach his pupil, this sheet was designed to be copied and has been dated by Kim Sloan to the 1770s. Sloan has related the small group of studies such as this from the Aynscombe album to Cozens’s publication of Various Species of Composition in Nature.[2] Boldly worked in fluid ink, the large drawing shows how Cozens adapted his landscape systems to be used by his students. Alexander Cozens's first drawing manual was published in 1759: An Essay to Facilitate the Inventing of Landskips, Intended for Students in the Art.[3] In the two-page explanatory essay he began with a passage from the 1724 English edition of Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting, which described how invention of composition might be assisted by looking at accidents of nature, such as old walls covered with dirt or streaked stones. Cozens explained that a happy accident with an adept pupil had led him to improve upon Leonardo by creating those imperfect forms on purpose with some degree of design, and then using them as the basis for landscape compositions. These ‘rude black Sketches’ or ‘blots’ were drawn swiftly with a brush dipped in Indian ink, from which hints were taken for the outline of a landscape drawn on a clean piece of post paper laid on top. In A New Method he explained that ‘an artificial blot is a production of chance, with a small degree of design’ and should be embarked on only after the practitioners had possessed their minds ‘strongly with the subject’. He defines the ‘true blot’ as ‘an assemblage of dark shapes or masses made with ink upon a piece of paper, and likewise of light ones produced by the paper being left blank.’[4] He provided eight pairs of blots and outline landscapes drawn from them as examples of the eight styles of composition, which he listed in the essay.

Cozens’s ‘blot’ technique was fully evolved by the 1750s, but he did not explain it in detail until the publication of A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape in 1786. This finished drawing of a cave and rocks was designed to help his students gain facility in developing their blots into finished compositions; understanding the play of light and structure in nature.

Charlotte Aynscombe was the daughter of Lillie Smith Aynscombe of St Leonard’s Hill near Windsor and from 1773 of Cromwell House, Mortlake, the niece of George Challoner she was recorded as a subscriber to Alexander Cozens’s Principles of Beauty in 1778. As Kim Sloan has pointed out an ‘Aynscombe’ was listed as a purchaser at the Cozens sale in 1794, at the same time Charlotte’s cousin, Henry Stebbing made a number of important acquisitions. Henry Stebbing was also a pupil of Cozens’s and owned a substantial collection of his work, including an album now in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.[5] The present drawing was removed from the Aynscombe album shortly before its purchase by the British Museum.[6]

Alexander Cozens
Branch of a tree, 1770s
Brush and grey wash, on thin varnished or oil paper
from the Aynscombe album
11 ⅜ x 9 ¼ inches; 290 x 235 mm
© The Trustees of the British Museum


  1. Kim Sloan, ‘A Cozens Album in the National Museum of Wales’, The Walpole Society, vol. LVII, 1993, pp.88-89.
  2. Kim Sloan, 'Poetry of Landscape, Alexander and John Robert Cozens', Yale, 1986, pp. 49-60.
  3. Alexander Cozens, A New Method of Landscape, London, 1786, pp.6-7.
  4. Alexander Cozens, A New Method of Landscape, London, 1786, pp.6-7.
  5. Kim Sloan, ‘A Cozens Album in the National Museum of Wales’, The Walpole Society, vol.LVII, 1993, pp.82-84. 
  6. BM 2010,7072.