Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Exeter from Exwick
Oil on canvas
  • image width 1164mm,
  • image length 1631mm
  • canvas, verso
  • formerly signed and dated
Object Type
Oil painting

A View of Exeter, taken between Exwick and Cowley Bridge
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 John White Abbott (1763–1851), who presented it in September 1826 to the Devon and Exeter Institution, from whom it was purchased in 1961 by the present owner, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter (10/1961).

Associated People & Organisations

Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter, 1961
Devon and Exeter Institution, Exeter, September 1826
John White Abbott (1763 - 1851), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
Pictures, Models, Designs in Architecture, Drawings, Prints: Exhibited at their New Room near Exeter Exchange, Society of Artists of Great Britain, April 1773, no. 328 as 'A large landscape'
[?] Works of British artists placed in the Gallery of the British Institution, Pall-Mall for exhibition and Sale, British Institution, 1810
Loan Exhibition of Works by Early Devon Painters Born Before the Year 1800, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1932, no. 18
Three Exeter Artists of the Eighteenth Century: Francis Hayman RA, Francis Towne, John White Abbott, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1951, no. 85
Paintings and Drawings by Francis Towne and John White Abbott in the collection of Exeter Museums and Art Gallery, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1971, no. 1
Early Devon Painters: Forty Years On, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1972, no. 51
Francis Towne & John White Abbott: Paintings and Watercolours from the Exeter Museums and Art Gallery, Marble Hill House, 1973, no. 1
Jane C. Baker, Catalogue of Oil Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings and Sculpture, Exeter Museums: Exeter, 1978, p. 117
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, pp. 20-21, 61, 63, 133
Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Fourth Report on Works of Art In Devonshire in Transactions of the Devonshire Association: Plymouth, 1883, p. 129
A. Goodwin, Exeter and Its Region, ed. Frank Barlow, British Association for the Advancement of Science (Exeter Local Executive Committee): Exeter, 1969, p. 340
Luke Herrmann, British Landscape Painting of the 18th Century, Faber: London, 1973, p. 75
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, pp. 100-102, 104


This is a view of Exeter based on a drawing (FT021) reworked and inscribed in 1787:

“A View of Exeter between Exwick, & Cowley bridge, / on the Hill looking towards Exeter, with the river on your left hand / this is the original outline, that the large picture was painted from / that was in the Exhibition 1773 / Francis Towne 1787.”

Towne’s inscription confirms his viewpoint as somewhere on or near the Crediton Road looking south-south-east down the Exe valley towards Exeter and beyond to the Exe valley. The cathedral dominates the skyline and there are some other towers within the city to which Towne has given some individuality. Generally, though, having described the only Exeter landmark that a London audience might recognise, he is not concerned with topographical exactness in the manner of earlier artists of the Exeter skyline, like the Buck brothers, who published a panoramic view of the city in 1736. Rather Towne wishes to depict a compact city neatly abutting the countryside. In the right part of the image—representing Exeter’s poor and relatively industrialised western corner—mills, bridge and other buildings are omitted in favour of a dense arrangement of houses whose bright rooftops contrast with the darker greens of the Exminster fields spreading out beyond the city towards the estuary,1 and whose boundary with the countryside on the near side is marked with a bare straight line in harsh contrast with the lusher more naturalised margins of the wealthier northern and eastern quarters to its left. Bustle and industry are implied not only by these tightly packed houses but the smoke emanating from this working part of the city. The buildings of Exmouth and Lympstone along the far shore are briefly indicated as dashes of white paint and there is a suburban building on the near side of Exeter, which may be Duryard.

1736, engraving

Figure 1.
Engraved by Samuel Buck and Nathaniel Buck, The West Prospect Of The City Of Exeter, 1736, engraving

Digital image courtesy of Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, 306/1911

It may seem odd to propose that Towne showed this work in 1810, but in 1805 he had already shown many drawings made in 1777, and all his British Institution exhibits until this point seem to have been redisplays of old works. Certainly in the 1803 letter Towne recalled with pride that in the late 1760s and early 1770s he had “painted several views from drawings after nature, and some of these pictures were of a large size”, and alone of his really early works, this remained in Towne’s possession at his death over forty years after its creation. The 1810 exhibit received very warm praise from a reviewer of the “British Press”, writing on 10 April 1810. The review started by remarking how much progress the arts have made among enlightened patrons willing to reward talent with money, but at the same time stating that there was still a long way to go. He describes and praises at length a picture by “Cook”, ending thus:

This picture, we are sorry to observe, remains unsold; as does also that masterly picture by Towne, No.245, “A view of Exeter.” This beautiful landscape may very justly be compared to the best works of Wilson; and it possesses strong marks of the clearness and simplicity, for which Claude has been so much extolled and admired.

One indication that Towne continued to work on this picture long after the 1773 exhibition is the presence of what must be Sir Robert Palk’s tower on the top of Haldon Hill at the far right of the picture. Palk erected this in memory of his friend General Lawrence in 1788.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 This arrangement of buildings is seen also in a view of Pough Hill in Cornwall, which, though undated, may be from much the same time. Towne uses the same trick in a view of Tivoli (FT267).

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.