Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Haldon Hall
ca. 1775 - 1780
Pen and grey ink, grey wash
  • image width 230mm,
  • image length 406mm
two sheets watermarked with Heawood's design no.1855
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Haldon Hall
Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the object


Untraced until sold by A. J. Lowe (Rowe?) at Sotheby’s (as by John White Abbott) on 21 November 1968, lot 34, to Folio Fine Art, from whom it was bought in 1969 by a private collection (it was still in this collection in 1997).

Associated People & Organisations

A. J. Lowe [Rowe?]
Folio Fine Art
Private Collection
Sotheby's, London
Exhibition History
Landscape in Britain, ca. 1750-1850, Tate Gallery, 1973, no. 102
Francis Towne, Tate Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery, 24 June 1997 - 4 January 1998, no. 11


This is a view looking west towards Haldon Hall, a few miles south-east of Exeter. Haldon was an early eighteenth-century house built in the style of Buckingham House in St James’s Park, London, and at the time of Towne’s sketch was the seat of Sir Robert Palk (1717–1798), who bought the estate in 1769 and began altering it in 1772. Under Palk’s direction the formal, early eighteenth-century gardens were replaced with a landscape that appeared less artificial to late eighteenth-century tastes. However, not only was the house itself to undergo further change following Towne’s sketch, but Palk’s efforts to naturalize his estate were far from complete by the late 1770s. Towne’s sketch, therefore, shows the estate in transition. In 1788 Palk erected a belvedere to commemorate his close friend General Stringer Lawrence, who lived with him at Haldon and died in 1775.

This drawing is a preparatory sketch for an oil picture (FT154) dated 1780 and has a looseness comparable to a Welsh drawing of 1777 (FT113), although it may well not predate the oil as much as that; Wilcox suggested that the drawing was made in the summer of 1779. Wilcox also noted how Towne “seems to enlarge the original block of the house, leaving the wings relatively less obtrusive”,1 which he ascribed to Towne’s disapproval that the “recently constructed” wings built by his patron, Palk, were designed along the space-saving town house format; it was likewise the opinion of Swete, who felt it was ridiculous for a country house in ample parkland to bring its wings forward from the house, as would have been appropriate in the confined urban setting of St James’s House in London, which tradition stated was Haldon’s model. Instead, felt Swete, the wings should run along the east front of the house in order to extend the whole grand frontage of the house.2 On the other hand, it is unlikely that Towne expressed disapproval of Palk’s building work in a painting commissioned—and approved through this sketch—by Palk himself. Towne’s depiction of relatively small wings may rather be a consequence of the incomplete state of Palk’s remodelling of the house and wings at the time of making his picture, since the wings in the 1770s looked smaller than they were later to appear once the house steps and “slope” had been removed, as a comparison with T. Bonnor’s engraving dated 1790 makes clear.3

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 'Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p.50
  2. 2 However, although Wilcox appeared to attribute to Swete the notion that the wings were “recently constructed”, Swete was clear that they were in fact not recent but were part of Sir George Chudleigh’s original design: Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete, eds Todd Gray and Margery Rowe, Devon Books in association with Halgrove: Tiverton, 1997, vol 1, p.8
  3. 3 T. Bonnor, Haldon Hall, 1790 (John Somers Cocks, Etched on Devon's Memory, Devon Library and Information Services: Exeter, 2002-3; accessed 26 January 2005 at

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