Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of Exeter
ca. 1770 - 1778
Pen and grey and brown inks, watercolour
  • image width 203mm,
  • image length 324mm
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • "Francis Towne / delt delt"
  • the signature gone over in thick dark brown ink
  • sheet, verso
  • indistinct (obscured by the artist's mount)
  • artist's mount, verso
  • "A View of Exeter / by / Francis Towne / drawn on the spot"
  • in grey ink
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the Museum's own information


Untraced until sold by Dr F. A. Turk (1911–1996) at Sotheby’s on 21 February 1945 for £36 to Colnaghi, from whom it was bought by the current owner, the Victoria and Albert Museum (P2-1945).

Associated People & Organisations

P&D Colnaghi & Co, London
Sotheby's, London
Dr F. A. Turk (1911 - 1996)
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Richard Stephens, 'New Materials for Francis Towne's Biography', The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, No. 1121, Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd: London, 1996, pp. 503, 505


This is a view taken directly east of Exeter, perhaps at Red Hill. The church of St Thomas, just south of Exeter, is visible to the right. Towne must have been well aware of the Buck brothers’ similar view from the same spot, made in 1736.

The drawing is comparable to a view of Oakhampton of 1772 (FT030) for its somewhat scrappy treatment of the townscape and the absence of elements of classical composition (and also to a somewhat later sketch of Pough Hill, FT543). Quite apart from this, the drawing must predate 1778 when a new bridge over the Exe, designed to alleviate traffic problems on the route into Exeter, was opened in front of the medieval bridge Towne depicts. Indeed, as the foundation stone for the new bridge was laid in 1770 and continued “with great rapidity, when an unlucky accident put a stop to it” between January 1775 and July 1776,1 Towne has either deliberately ignored the new construction or else, more probably, made the drawing in or before 1770 (or, just possibly, in 1775 or 1776). 

Perhaps therefore this is a study for an early Society of Artists exhibit, such as one of three views near Exeter shown in 1771 (FT014FT015, or FT016). Certainly, in common with two early studies for oils (FT021 and FT022), this drawing has a bareness and a functional concern with marking small rows of dark foliage and other basic elements of the view. However, Towne has turned the study into a watercolour view in its own right by mounting it and working up the colour (especially in the foreground trees) more extensively than in these two other studies.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Alexander Jenkins, The History and Description of the City of Exeter and its Environs, Ancient and Modern, Civil and Ecclesiastical: Exeter, 1806, p.215

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