Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A Mill
ca. 1780
Pencil, pen and black ink, grey wash
  • image width 243mm,
  • image length 420mm
vertical crease down the centre of the paper
  • sheet, recto
  • “light green” and “boards.”
  • in ink
  • sheet, verso
  • “Morning light from the left hand from ½ past 11 to ½ past 12”
  • in pencil
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP245). In 1924 they sold it for £8 8s. to Alic Halford Smith (1883–1958) through the Oxford Arts Club, and Smith bequeathed the drawing to the current owner, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (DBB.285).

Associated People & Organisations

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1958, DBB.285
Alic Halford Smith (1883 - 1958), Oxford, 1924, GBP 8 8s
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP245
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816, BP245
David Blaney Brown, Ashmolean Museum Catalogue of Drawings Vol 4: Earlier English Drawings, Clarendon: Oxford, 1982, pp. 160-161 (as by John White Abbott)


This drawing appears to date from the early to mid-1780s and is close in style to drawings made on the Somerset coast. Like FT447, the other drawing bequeathed to the Ashmolean by Smith, who was Warden of New College, this drawing is currently catalogued as a John White Abbott. There is no doubt, however, that it is by Towne. Abbott was a much neater draughtsman—more correct in most ways—and the free drawing of the mill’s basic structure seems more consistent with an attribution to Towne. In details, too, the judgment must go to Towne: in the people and horses; in the verso inscription, which is currently hidden from view but is recorded in the museum’s accession records and is of a kind seen often in Towne’s work but never in Abbott’s; in the recto inscriptions, which are not in Abbott’s hand; and in the detail given to the roof, which looks more like Towne than Abbott. Having said all this, at times these two artists are extremely difficult to tell apart and the tendency among curators and others, in the absence of a clear indication of Towne’s authorship (such as a signature), to fall back on an attribution to Abbott is understandable. The shading of the dark quarter segments of the mill wheels, for example, is Abbott-like. 

by Richard Stephens

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