Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View taken from Oatlands
Pencil, pen and grey ink, grey wash
  • image width 267mm,
  • image length 368mm
paper with a vertical crease down its centre, watermarked with fleur-de-lis design and the letters “GR”
  • sheet, verso
  • “A View taken from Oatlands the seat of his Grace the Duke of / Newcastle / January the 22nd. 1782 settled with Michael Sanders Esqre. this Picture / the size to be 3 foot 8 inches by 2 foot 8 inches to have twenty five Guineas for it”
  • in pencil until “Newcastle”, thereafter in pen, and numbered “84” according to the Barton Place catalogue
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Paul Mellon Centre records (image); Agnew’s records


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 drawings in May 1915 (BP184). In November 1933 Judith Merivale sold it to Squire Gallery for £6 10s., from whom it was bought in 1933 by James Byam Shaw (1903–1992), whose widow Christina bequeathed it to Adrian Eeles.

Associated People & Organisations

Adrian Eeles
Christina Byam Shaw, 1992
Widow of James Byam Shaw
James Byam Shaw (1903 - 1992), 1933
Squire Gallery, November 1933, GBP 6.10s
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP184
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP184
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 128


1754, oil on canvas

This is a view of the Oatlands estate near Weybridge, Surrey. The house was rebuilt from Tudor origins in ca. 1717 by the 7th Earl of Lincoln (1684–1728), whose son Henry Fiennes Pelham Clinton, the 2nd Duke of Newcastle (1724–1794), undertook the landscape redevelopments that made the estate so famous around the time of Towne’s visit. Particularly celebrated was the Grotto, built in 1765–67 with significant expansion and additions in the 1770s. In the centre-left distance of Towne’s view is Walton Bridge over the Thames, built 1748–50 by Samuel Dicker (MP for Plymouth 1754–60) of Mount Felix, the estate just over the river from Oatlands that is visible in Canaletto’s 1754 view of the bridge commissioned by fellow MP Thomas Hollis, as well as in views by Canaletto commissioned by Dicker himself.

Towne’s view is taken from towards the right end of Broadwater Lake, a converted canal, looking down towards Walton Bridge, built by a Mr Etheridge in ca. 1747–50. This bridge, set within the fashionable elegance of the Duke of Newcastle’s estate, rather than Oatlands, is the real subject of the picture, for Towne’s patron was its owner. On Samuel Dicker’s death in 1760, his Walton estates and the bridge—and the right to collect tolls from its users—passed to his niece Sarah’s son, Michael Dicker Sanders, who was then a child.1 By the 1770s the deteriorating timber bridge had become a financial burden and in July 1778 a report by John Smeaton recommended a brick replacement be built at an estimated cost of £2,427 7s. 0d. In 1782 Sanders received parliamentary authority to demolish the bridge, which had “beocome ruinous”, and in about 1783 Walton Bridge was demolished. In June 1783 “Michael Dicker Saunders” laid the first stone of the replacement bridge, designed by Thomas Sandby, which was completed in 1788.2

Towne’s reputation in Exeter, and the oil pictures he had made in 1780 for various Devon landowners, surely helped him win this work. Samuel Dicker had been the MP for Plymouth and his heir Michael Dicker Sanders was a native of Exeter. When Mount Felix was sold in ca. 1760, its new owner was “a native of Exeter”.3 Michael Dicker Sanders was also brother of Ann Sanders (1755–1815), who, as Mrs Fortescue of Buckland House, Devon, commissioned several watercolours of Rome from Towne (see FT425). As Ann Sanders had also been one of Towne’s pupils (FT859), it is quite likely that Michael Dicker Sanders received tuition from Towne as well. 

Plans for the destruction of the bridge must have been well advanced when Sanders ordered his picture, and this no doubt accounts for Towne’s approach to its representation. In the 1750s Canaletto had painted the bridge in some detail, celebrating the triumph of engineering more than the setting, and making reference to Samuel Dicker himself with the inclusion of his riverside house and land on the left edge of the picture. After just thirty years, however, the bridge was losing money and must have been in poor repair; the Mount Felix estate had been sold. It is not surprising, therefore, that the treatment that most appealed to the bridge’s owner by then was Towne’s general view of the area, which overlooked structural defects and instead borrowed its beauty, interest, and prestige from the famous Oatlands surroundings. If Sanders was looking for a view of the bridge as a memento after its demolition, then this drawing was surely the one to select.

Towne’s inscription states that the commission was agreed in January 1782, and as he only returned to England in late September 1781, when he travelled from London to Exeter,4 he probably made the sketch in the final months of 1781, although the possibility exists that he made it in ca. 1780 before going abroad. The bushy foliage in the bottom part of the tree is reminiscent of the woodland study made at Albano (FT296), and the tree as a whole is handled a lot more like the tree he drew at Tivoli in May 1781 than the one he drew at Oakley Park in 1777 (FT110, FT270), though the remainder of the drawing is just as tightly drawn as the studies he made in 1778–80 in preparation for oil paintings.

The oil painting resulting from this commission is unknown, but judging by Towne’s inscription it must have measured about 813 x 1118 mm (FT392a). Towne made another oil painting of Walton Bridge, dated 1785 and now at Yale (FT421), which was probably also for Michael Dicker Sanders. In 1918 Emily Buckingham made attempts to locate Towne’s work for Michael Sanders, but without success: “I have already tried to get at Sanders but have had no clue given me to any thing of Towne’s being owned by any present day member of the Family.”5

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Sarah’s father, the Exeter physician Michael Lee Dicker (1693–1752), was Samuel Dicker’s brother
  2. 2 Bentley 2004; Lysons 1800, p.306. A history of the bridge is also contained in “Notes and Queries”, 11S. VII, 8 March 1913, p.194, although this source has not yet been consulted fully. See also Annual Register for 1783, p.206.
  3. 3 Gomme 1893, p.90.
  4. 4 Royal Academy Library, HU2/120-1.
  5. 5 Paul Oppé records: letter from Emily Buckingham to Paul Oppé, 6 December 1918.

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