Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Looking towards Newton
  • View in Devonshire
  • The Valley of the Teign, Devonshire
Oil on canvas
  • image width 806mm,
  • image length 1143mm
  • sheet, recto
  • “F.Towne pinxt 1780”
Object Type
Oil painting

Looking towards Newton
Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Examination; Museum records (image)


Commissioned by Thomas Taylor of Denbury (1731–1805) and untraced thereafter until its sale at Sotheby’s on 16 February 1949, lot 138, to the Fine Art Society for £98. By 1962 it was in the collection of the current owner, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester Arts and Museums Service.

Associated People & Organisations

New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester Arts and Museums Service, Leicester, 1962, L.F55.1953.0.0
The Fine Art Society, London, London, 16 February 1949, GBP 98
Sotheby's, London, London, 16 February 1949, lot 138
Thomas Taylor (1731 - 1805)
Exhibition History
[?] The Exhibition of the Royal Academy, Royal Academy of Arts, 1780, no. 21 or 24 as 'View in Devonshire'
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 62-63, 138
William George Constable, Richard Wilson, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, 1953, p. 240
Luke Herrmann, British Landscape Painting of the 18th Century, Faber: London, 1973, p. 75
Benjamin Donn, 'A Map of the County of Devon', Benjamin Donn: A Commemorative Volume, Devon and Cornwall Record Society and The University of Exeter: Exeter, 1965, plate 11a
Thomas Gray, A catalogue of the antiquities, houses, parks, plantations, scenes, and situations in England and Wales, arranged according to the alphabetical order of the several counties: London, 1773, p. 10
The Letters of Eliza Pierce, ed. Violet M. Macdonald (ed.), Frederick Etchells & Hugh Macdonald: London, 1927, p. 23


This is based on a sketch inscribed “Looking towards Newton / Painted a Picture for Thomas Taylor of Denbury / 1780” (FT155).

The picture shows an early-morning view looking east to the River Teign over Newton Abbott, the town in the mid-distance. The viewpoint is near West Ogwell House, a seat of Thomas Taylor (1731–1805) that he rebuilt between 1751 and 1794, and was probably drawn on his land—Taylor owned “the greater part of this parish” of East Ogwell.1 Taylor also owned Denbury House in the village of Denbury, a little south of this view, to which Towne’s inscription on FT155 refers and which Taylor’s father had rebuilt in the 1730s. However, although Towne’s painting of the Teign river probably describes Taylor’s inherited lands, it is not primarily an assertion of his ownership of the land in the way that Towne’s picture of Haldon (FT154) is primarily a representation of the property of Sir Robert Palk. Although it employs the same precise observation, it is a private, contemplative landscape. The river is not here as a symbol of mercantile or naval power but as a phenomenon of nature, for the view Towne has shown is “Ogwell-hill, near Newton”, which was a local beauty spot.2 Polwhele noted the view: “In our way from Newton to East-Ogwell, the vale in which Newton is situated has a pleasing effect, if we look back on the oaken coppice that cloathes a part of it, and the clustering houses that terminate the view.”3 

Taylor appears to have been close to the family of another of Towne’s patrons, Lord Courtenay; a biography of Taylor calls the Courtenay family his “cousins” and he was a member of the viscount’s Starcross Club.4 Taylor commissioned a portrait of Courtenay’s daughter Lady Caroline (1775–1851) from John Downman, which is inscribed “for old Mr Taylor of Denbury” and dated 1801,5 when a version of it was exhibited at the Royal Academy. A portrait of Taylor by John Opie (1761–1807) still hangs at Powderham Castle, the Courtenay seat. Taylor’s portrait was also painted twice by Arthur Devis (1711–1787).6 Taylor was from a naval family and in one of these portraits (fig 156b) he is standing next to his brother-in-law Arthur Holdsworth (1733–1777), Governor of Dartmouth Castle, against a backdrop of the River Dart. Taylor was himself the Recorder of Dartmouth and after the death in 1776 of his wife, Eliza Pierce, he spent much of his time travelling in Devon on legal business, especially to Dartmouth, Exeter, and Newton Abbott. He was a regular visitor to the Holdsworths at Widdicombe and the Courtenays at Powderham.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Polwhele 1793, vol.2, p.132.
  2. 2 Gray 1773, p.10.
  3. 3 Polwhele 1793, vol.1, pp.130–31.
  4. 4 Macdonald 1927, p.23.
  5. 5 British Museum, Butleigh Court 3rd series, vol.1.
  6. 6 One of these was sold at Phillips on 17 December 1996, lot 28; the other is at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

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