Francis Towne

Haldon Hall, near Exeter


Not on display

Francis Towne 1739–1816
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 800 × 1257 mm
frame: 940 × 1396 × 67 mm
Purchased 1969

Display caption

Towne is best-known for his distinctive topographical watercolours but, throughout his career, he also worked in oils. This charming Devonshire landscape has the characteristic crisp outlines, delicate colour and tonal variations of his watercolours.
This is a fine example of the country-house portrait, a genre that was extremely popular in the eighteenth century. The wealthy country gentry took great pride in their property and were keen for artists to show their expansive estates to advantage. The question of land ownership was of great importance at this time, for the power of the government in England largely resided with the landowners, who remained firmly rooted on their estates.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Francis Towne 1740–1816
Inscribed ‘F Towne 1780’ b.l.
Canvas, 31½×49½ (80.5×126).
Purchased from Leger Galleries Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1969.
Coll: ? Commissioned by Sir Robert Palk, Bt., 1780; by descent to Evelyn Palk, who married Major Ernest Gambier Parry, 1880; their son Thomas Mark Gambier Parry; bought Leger 1968.
Exh: ? R.A. 1780 (21) or (24); English Occasions, Leger Galleries October–November 1969 (14, repr.).

From 1762 to 1780 Towne was mainly active around Exeter, both tutoring the children of local gentry and painting views of country seats (A P Oppé, ‘Francis Towne, Landscape Painter’ in The Walpole Society Journal, VIII, 1919–20, pp. 96–101). No. T01155 must have been one of the last of these views painted by Towne before he travelled to Rome in 1780. It has been suggested that it might be one of the two works, both entitled ‘View in Devon’, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780.

Although many watercolour studies for these large oil paintings are known, only two other completed paintings appear to be extant, ‘Exeter from Exwick’, dated 1773, now in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, and ‘Powderham Castle’, dated 1777, in the collection of the Earl of Halifax. A comparison between these works suggests that in the latter part of his time at Exeter, Towne was already moving towards the simplicity and breadth evident in his Roman watercolours.

On acquisition a layer of overpaint covering the whole picture was removed to reveal minor damages in the sky upper right and in the left-hand foreground. These have been repaired in the Gallery's conservation studios.

Haldon Hall was built circa 1720 by Sir George Chudleigh on the model of Buckingham House, and was reputed at the time to be one of the best modern houses in Devon. It was bought in 1767 by Sir Robert Palk, Bt., who covered the original brickwork with Rawlinson's Patent Stucco and replaced the gardens with extensive parklands (Richard Polwhele, The History of Devonshire, 1793, II, pp. 181–2). Towne's view, which exaggerates the height of the house, reveals these alterations. Sir Robert subsequently made further additions to the structure, including the installation of a geometrical staircase at either end of the main building and the excavation of the lowest storey.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970

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