Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of Oakhampton Castle and Town
Pen and black ink, grey wash
  • image width 200mm,
  • image length 321mm
mounted by the artist
  • artist's mount, recto, centre
  • in grey ink
  • artist's mount, recto, lower left
  • “F.Towne”
  • in grey ink
  • artist's mount, recto, lower right
  • “1772”
  • in grey ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “A View of Oakhampton Castle and Town/ in the County of Devon/ drawn on the spot June 22nd 1772/ by Francis Towne.”
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the object

Museum's own information


This drawing is untraced until 23 April 1963 when it was acquired for £100 from the John Nicholson Gallery, New York, by the Mass Gallery, London (W3262), which on 3 March 1964 sold it to Agnew’s (no.3974). On the same day Agnew’s sold it to Sir John Heathcoat Amory, Bt (1894–1972). On 16 January 1967 Heathcoat Amory sold it back to Agnew’s (no.6677), where it was bought the same day (March 1967 according to Yale’s file) for £500 by Paul Mellon (1907–1999), who gave it to its present owner, the Yale Center for British Art (B1975.4.1415; gift to Yale, December 1975).

Associated People & Organisations

Thomas Agnew & Sons
Sir John Heathcoat Amory (1894 - 1972)
Maas Gallery, London
Mr Paul Mellon (1907 - 1999)
John Nicholson Gallery, New York
Yale Center for British Art
Exhibition History
[?] Exhibition of Original Drawings at the Gallery, No.20 Lower Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, 20 Lower Brook Street, 1805, no. 6 as 'Okehampton Castle'
[?] Loan Exhibition of Works by Early Devon Painters Born Before the Year 1800, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1932, no. 71 as 'Okehampton Castle (Indian Ink) 7 1/2 x 12 1/2ins, lent by Miss Merivale'
94th Annual Exhibition of Watercolours and Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1967, no. 43
Richard Stephens, 'New Materials for Francis Towne's Biography', The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, No. 1121, Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd: London, 1996, pp. 503, 504
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, pp. 35-36


Oakhampton town, castle, and park are just beyond the northern tip of Dartmoor. The castle is a very ancient site, mentioned in the Doomsday Book and for centuries owned by the Courtenays, Earls of Devon. The castle was a significant local attraction and several engravings of it were made during the eighteenth century. The Revd J. Swete, visiting in 1792, wrote: “Few places have more of the picturesque in them than this – the ruins of a magnificent castellated Pile, crowned by a Keep, high-towering over the other buildings, in feudal times rendered almost impregnable by Nature and effectually made so, by the assistance of Art.”1

This is one of two similar views of Oakhampton dated 1772. In this drawing Towne is very slightly nearer to the castle than in FT030, but the viewpoint is otherwise identical. However, there is a different approach to the foreground in each drawing, here placing a classical tree at the left to introduce and frame the scene for the viewer, and in FT030 constructing an entire foreground landscape to engage the viewer’s attention, beyond which the castle and town lie. There was also a good market-led reason to make two versions of Oakhampton in this way, as by 1772 Lord Courtenay no longer owned the castle, but he did retain the large park surrounding the ruins.2 This drawing favours the castle itself, and FT030 makes the parkland more prominent.

Around the same time that Towne made the two Oakhampton views, Richard Wilson was working on two commissions from Lord Courtenay to paint Oakhampton Castle and Lydford waterfall, following a sketching trip to Devon in August 1771. In both pictures Wilson has abandoned his usual compositional framework to give a more direct account of the scenery. However, an Oakhampton Castle painting that Wilson probably exhibited in 1774 is very similar in composition to Towne’s drawing. It is certainly tempting to link the two men, and presumably Wilson’s painting is based on his 1771 visit to the small society of Exeter, which surely came to the notice of Towne, whose paintings about that time were produced under Wilson’s influence. As Wilcox has suggested,3 probably Towne was indeed in Wilson’s debt, and the latter artist had already used the same compositional format, based on Dughet, in paintings of Dinas Bran.4 

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 eds Todd Gray and Margery Rowe, Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete, Devon Books in association with Halgrove: Tiverton, 1997, vol 1, p.21 .
  2. 2 See Benjamin Donn, A Map of the County of Devon, Devon and Cornwall Record Society and the University of Exeter: Exeter 1965, plates 6a and 6b.
  3. 3 Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p.36.
  4. 4 William George Constable, Richard Wilson, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, 1953, figs 36a and 36b; David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson, Tate Publications: London, 1982, p.238. The prime version was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771.

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