Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Powderham Castle
  • A view of Powderham Castle and the River Exe
  • View of Powderham Castle and Park, and the scenery of the River Exe
Oil on canvas
  • image width 1372mm,
  • image length 2007mm
  • sheet, recto
  • “1777”
  • signed and dated
Object Type
Oil painting

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Bury; Owner (image)


Commissioned by William, 2nd Viscount Courtenay (1742–1788), on 22 October 1774, and offered for sale by his son, William 3rd Viscount Courtenay, at Christie’s on 27 April 1816 (Lugt 8875), lot 71, as 'Towne View of Powderham Castle and Park, and the scenery of the River Exe', where it was withdrawn from sale. Courtenay later sold it at Christie’s on 15 February 1817 (Lugt 9040), lot 54, as 'Towne A view of Powderham Castle and the River Exe' for £4 8s. to Terry. It is thereafter untraced until bought by Charles, 2nd Viscount Halifax (b.1839), as a present for his wife Lady Agnes Courtenay (d.1919, daughter of 11th Earl of Devon), whom he married in 1869. In 1962 it was owned by their grandson, the 2nd Earl of Halifax (1912–1980), and it was sold by a “Lady of Title” at Christie’s South Kensington on 29 April 2014, lot 149, to the current Earl of Devon.

Associated People & Organisations

Powderham Castle, Exminster, Devon, 29 April 2014
Christie's, London, London, 29 April 2014
lot 149
2nd Earl of Halifax Charles Ingram Courtenay Courtenay Wood (1839), 1962
Charles Wood (1839 - 1934)
Acquired as a present for his wife Lady Agnes Courtenay (d.1919, daughter of 11th Earl of Devon), whom he married in 1869
Private Collection, 15 February 1817, GBP 4 8s
Acquired by “Terry”
Christie's, London, London, 15 February 1817, Lugt 9040, lot 54
Christie's, London, London, 27 April 1816, Lugt 8875, lot 71
Withdrawn from sale
3rd Viscount William Courtenay (1768 - 1835), Exminster, Devon, 1788
2nd Viscount William Courtenay (1742 - 1788), Exminster, Devon, 22 October 1774
Exhibition History
Treasures from Yorkshire Collections, City Art Gallery, 1954
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 62-63, 140
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 36


This evening estuary view at high tide is based on a drawing of Powderham (FT043) inscribed: “This view of Powderham to be painted in a size four times as large each way by order of Lord Courtenay Oct the 22nd 1774.” The size of the painting no doubt accounts—at least in part—for the length of time it took to paint, and it may be that Courtenay was prompted by the success of the painting to commission further works from Towne. These later commissions show off the same scenery and far-reaching views, which had such appeal for Courtenay. It is likely that such a large painting for so eminent a local patron would have attracted interest from other landowners, anxious to emulate Lord Courtenay, and this may help account for the number of works Towne made in the years immediately preceding his visit to Italy. 

Stylistically, the picture captures an interesting point in Towne’s development as an oil painter, between his Wilsonesque Exeter view of 1773 (FT019) and paintings of 1780 such as the view of the Teign (FT156). Compositional conventions that were expected in a country house view, such as the large foreground tree and rustic figures, are present, but subdued; the bank of ground on which the figures stand does not even run the entire width of the picture, and the framing tree at the right is only partially visible. The feeling for light so evident in the Teign work is clear here also, especially in the warmth with which the trees and land at the far right are treated. In the Powderham work the trees show signs of Towne’s later modelling of trees as spherical casings, rather than as complex branch structures.

Although it was consigned to Christie’s on 26 February 1816 by Towne himself, the painting was initially judged there to be by George Lambert.

by Richard Stephens

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