Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Church of St Petroc, Egloshayle, near Wadebridge, Cornwall
ca. 1766 - 1775
Oil on canvas
  • overall height 1010mm,
  • overall width 1870mm
Object Type
Oil painting

Catalogue Number
Description Sources


Presumed commissioned by Sir John Molesworth, 5th Bt (1729–75), and descended to the current owner.

Associated People & Organisations

Private Collection
[?] Sir John Molesworth (1730 - 1775), Bodmin, Cornwall


The attribution of this painting and its companion (FT060a) to Francis Towne was first suggested by Sotheby’s in 2010 following a visit to Pencarrow. The paucity of oil paintings by Towne—from across his career but especially in the early 1770s—makes comparisons difficult and it is inevitable that aspects of these paintings are unfamiliar, especially FT060a. However, there are enough reliable indications of Towne’s hand to consider them to be his work.

The overall sense is that Towne has made a drawing and is filling it in with colour, zone by zone, carefully. Where these zones meet, it is possible even to see narrow strips where the canvas shows through and the dark underdrawing can be seen. This is something common to most of his oil paintings, and especially the drawing of the bridge here can be compared with the 1785 painting, Walton Bridge (FT421). This technique leaves some boundaries defined in a way that looks excessively sharp, such as between land and water. It is more effective in hills and hedges, where the boundary line itself—such as a hedge—forms part of the viewed scene. The fields here are comparable with those in Towne’s large painting of Holnicote (FT449).

The figure in the blue top and red trousers is in the same colours that Towne used widely for such figures, such as the woman in the left foreground of the 1777 Powderham painting (FT065); his proportions follow those in Towne’s works, with legs slightly too short, such as the figure accompanying the horse in the 1773 oil painting of Exeter (FT019), and the figure at the right side of the group in the 1780 painting of Haldon (FT154).

The small path winding its way between the trees in the left mid-ground, with the little figure walking up, is just like those in some of Towne’s mid-1770s drawings made in Wales and in both versions of the Snowdon oil painting (FT141, FT142), where a path is indicated by a Z-shaped stroke of the brush just to the left of the horseman.

The silhouetting of trees at the top of the hill is a common characteristic of Towne’s work and, most obviously in this context, the 1780 painting made for Thomas Taylor of Denbury (FT156). Both that painting and this one show well Towne’s habit of painting the upper branches of trees as a series of curly flicks of the brush. The reddish highlights on the ground and the tree trunks in the left foreground of the Pencarrow painting are typical of Towne’s commissioned work, to indicate light hitting the trees. For example, Towne used the device in the left foreground of his Haldon oil (FT154), in one of his 1780 Ugbrooke oils (FT156), and in a studio watercolour of Lake Lugano dated 1787 (FT536).

The placement of the sailing boat in the central mid-ground of the pictorial space is consistent with Towne’s habit of drawing the eye to an object or detail in that area, such as the bridge in the view near Dolgelly in 1777 (FT077).

What is unfamiliar is chiefly the absence of detailing of leaves. In all of his other known work in oil paint, Towne would build up a tree by making small marks that indicate individual leaves. Here, though, the trees are bushier, with one broad brush stroke indicating the foliage of an entire branch. However, we do see something like this in the mid-ground of his 1773 Exeter view (FT019), in the trees on the far bank of the river, and immediately below the cityscape.

The dating of these two Pencarrow pictures must remain imprecise. Sir John Molesworth, 5th Bt, remodelled Pencarrow between his succession in 1766 and death in 1775, and that great project, generating much new wall space to be decorated, represents the most likely cause for a commission like this. Doubtless Molesworth was glad to have a painter with London credentials available for work locally, and he would have passed through Exeter frequently on his way to and from the capital. The church at Egloshayle was the site of Molesworth’s mother’s tomb, and where he himself was to be buried. 

by Richard Stephens

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