Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Tree Study
No date
Pencil, pen and grey ink, watercolour
  • image width 365mm,
  • image length 216mm
  • sheet, recto
  • towards the top: “sky”
  • in pencil
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Christie's records (image)


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (18601945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (probably BP243). On 3 August 1945 Judith Merivale sold it to Agnew’s for £15 and it was bought there on 29 October 1945 for £70 less commission of £3 10s. by Sir William Worsley, Bt (1890–1973), whose family sold it at Christie’s on 20 November 1984, lot 78, for £9,500 to Agnew’s (no.1043), who bought it on behalf of a private collector, whereafter it is untraced.

Associated People & Organisations

Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 20 November 1984, no.1043
Acquired on behalf of a private collector
Christie's, London, London, 20 November 1984, GBP 9500, lot 78
Sir William Worsley (1890 - 1973), 29 October 1945, GBP 70
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 3 August 1945, GBP 15
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, probably BP243
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, probably BP243
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
[?] Early English Drawings by Francis Towne and John White Abbott, Oxford Arts Club, 1931, no. 11 as 'Study of a Tree, BP243'
Watercolours by Francis Towne, City Art Gallery, 1950, no. 4
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 125 (?)
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 141
Sir William Worsley, Early English Water-Colours at Hovingham Hall: 1963, p. 9


This complex and delicate study probably dates from the 1790s. The nearest comparisons—and they are not particularly close—are found in the foliage of a drawing of Heavitree that was probably made in 1791 (FT569) and in the backgrounds of views in London of 1797 (for example FT597). There are also affinities with the foliage of a Roman drawing of 1780 (FT189). See the Comment at FT624 for Oppé’s description of drawings BP242–44, of which this is probably BP243, based on the coincidences of size, subject matter (a tree study), and its sale at Agnew’s, where it was described on reception in 1945 as “Tree 1800”. Both this and FT631 were dated 1800 on reception at Agnew’s, but the basis for this is unknown. In his Walpole Society article Oppé described four tree studies drawn “probably about 1800”, of which this may be one.

The intricate study of trees was a long-standing interest of John White Abbott, who made several very ambitious examples, notably at Peamore (see FT836) and Ugbrooke (for example Sotheby’s 22 March 2000, lot 117). This drawing has more in common with John White Abbott’s highly structured and detailed studies than with Towne’s trees, where the underlying sense is usually of the foliage masses rather than the trunk and branches. 

The location of this tree is unknown, although an annotation in the Christie’s copy of the 1963 Hovingham catalogue suggests that it is at Werrington.

by Richard Stephens

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.