Other Pupils, identififed

Richard Stephens

Fewer than twenty of Towne’s pupils can now be identified, but many more must have existed. Given his friendship with the proprietors the Misses Louis (whom he remembered in his will), Towne probably taught groups at the Magdalen Street academy in Exeter, and individuals at home and other venues. The age, skill, and commitment of pupils varied greatly. Beginners like Arabella Yeoman (FT861) drew for their own entertainment and received far less tuition than John White Abbott. The latter was clearly an important long-term project for Towne whose success had implications for the primacy of his own tuition practice in the Exeter area. Some, like William Jackson (FT892, FT893), John Short (FT896, FT897), and John Baverstock Knight (FT841) had experience of drawing that went well beyond Towne, the extent and duration of whose influence may have been restricted. Given Towne’s long-standing presence in Exeter, many of Towne’s pupils would have been, or become, long-term acquaintances, and their business relationships with him would have varied over time. Ann Sanders is an example of a pupil (FT859) who was to become a commissioning client following her marriage (FT427, FT427f, FT429, FT433). Pupils and clients were drawn from the same families and Exeter social circles, and many of Towne’s “on the spot” sketches were no doubt made in the company of his pupils, at his pupils’ suggestion, or on their property. The blurred boundaries between Towne’s practice as a landscape painter and that of a drawing master are mirrored, too, in the shared authorship of some watercolours. For in several cases Towne did not only supply the source picture on which the pupil’s copy was based, but was actively involved in its production. For example, Patience Carpenter’s 1802 view of Exeter (FT895) is inscribed by Towne himself. In her copy of Towne’s view of Netley Abbey (FT895a), which Towne has signed, inscribed, and dated (and presumably mounted too), the neat brush hatchings, much of the detailing on the brick, and the overall coherence in lighting are surely due to his interventions in the image itself, especially when comparing it with other examples by the same pupil where the foundations are so much less robust (such as FT895f).

date not known, graphite, ink and watercolour on paper

In addition to surviving works by identified pupils, other amateur draughtsmen can be associated with Towne more or less securely on stylistic grounds, but their work has not been included in this catalogue. Hubert Cornish (1757–1797) was a Devon gentleman who in the 1790s worked as secretary to his brother-in-law Sir John Shore (later 1st Baron Teignmouth) while he was Governor General of India; Cornish, subsequently a lawyer in Exeter,1 was a friend of the Merivale family, in whose musical evenings he participated in the early 1800s.2 In 1809 Nancy and Frances Merivale spent time in Exeter with Mrs Jackson, who “gave us a Treat by taking us to see Mr Hubert Cornish’s Pictures, which are really beautiful”.3 Cornish’s flat washes and bushy penned foliage, such as in the group of drawings of Oxford on sale at Abbott & Holder in 1999, have a rough correspondence with Towne’s work. Another amateur sketcher who may have received tuition from Towne was Peter Richard Hoare (1772–1849), half-brother of Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead; sketches ascribed to Sir Richard are also Towne-like, such as a Tate drawing ‘Near Exeter’.4 Huon Mallalieu described Major General Sir George Bulteel Fisher (1764–1834) as “a landscape and shipping painter who was a pupil of F.Towne”.5 Captain Joshua Rowley Watson (1772–1818) lived in and around Exeter in the late 1790s and early 1800s and may have known Towne’s work, as he certainly did that of Revd John Swete and William Payne.6 Archdeacon Froude of Dartington probably also knew Towne’s work, judging by an 1806–7 sketchbook in the Devon Record Office. But in these cases this is a matter not of evidential certainty but of arguable stylistic judgement. On the other hand, an album of sketches by Thomas Smith, a traveller in Italy who received guidance from John “Warwick” Smith, has been included within the catalogue as, despite no direct documentary link to Towne, the strength of his stylistic affinity merits it. Bury mentioned a pupil named Annabella Rowe, “whose work has survived”,7 but this has not been traced nor the pupil identified among Devon families of the eighteenth century.


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  1. 1 Although the date of his return to England is unclear. A family history website ( gives 1797, but it is clear that Cornish was still in India in 1798 and early 1799 as his letters to Shore survive (British and Foreign Bible Society, Cambridge University Library). For biographical details, see Houssemayne 1903.
  2. 2 These events are described by Harriet Gibbs in letters dated 1804 (Gibbs & Co. papers, Guildhall Library) and in a letter of 1808 written from Barton Place by Nancy Merivale (Merivale Letters, p.10, Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere).
  3. 3 Merivale Letters, p.11, Wordsworth Trust.
  4. 4 Tate Gallery, T09433.
  5. 5 Mallalieu 1986, p.129.
  6. 6 Kathleen A. Foster, Captain Watson’s Travels in America, University Park, PA 1997.
  7. 7 Bury 1962, p.112.


Article title
Other Pupils, identififed
Richard Stephens
Article DOI
Cite as
Richard Stephens, "Other Pupils, identififed", A Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Towne (1739-1816), (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016),

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