Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Powderham
ca. 1774
Pen and grey ink, grey wash
  • image width 457mm,
  • image length 610mm
paper has a vertical creasemark down its centre and is watermarked with "GR"
  • verso
  • "This view of Powderham to be painted in a size four times as large each way by order of Lord Courtenay Oct the 22nd 1774" and numbered "86"
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Powderham Castle
Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Notebooks and papers of Paul Oppé (1878-1957), private collection

Information at the Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Archives of Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd

Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it reverted 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 (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawings in May 1915 (BP170). Judith Merivale appears never to have sold the drawing, in which case probably her executors sold it in 1945 or 1946 onto the London art market. At any rate, on 28 June 1946 the Fine Art Society (no.4126) sold the drawing for £26 5s. to the 17th Earl of Devon, and the drawing remains in a private collection.

Associated People & Organisations

Charles Courtenay, 17th Earl of Devon (1916 - 1998)
The Fine Art Society, London
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844)
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945)
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928)
Private Collection
James White (1744 - 1825)
Exhibition History
[?] Annual Water Colour Exhibition 1926, The Judge's Lodgings, Winchester, 1926, no. 121 as 'Powderham'
[?] Autumn Exhibition of Early English Water-Colours and Drawings (2nd ed), Fine Art Society, 1946, no. 33 as 'View of Powderham, 1774'
Paul Oppé, 'Francis Towne, Landscape Painter', The Walpole Society: London, 1920, p. 101
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 140
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 36


Powderham Castle, on the Exe Estuary, is the seat of the Courtenay family, Earls of Devon. This is a study for Towne’s large oil painting of the castle, which is dated 1777 (FT065) and is the earliest of many commissions Towne gained from William, 2nd Viscount Courtenay (1742–1788), during the 1770s. The number 86 on this drawing suggests that it was one of many that Towne made for Lord Courtenay around 1774, or on his estate. Two other drawings are known, both numbered and on the same paper as this, which are probably from the same series. One is numbered 21 (FT042) and the other 89 (FT044).

The oil painting is close to this study, although in the painting Towne has diminished the low buildings running along the far side of the wall, as well as the wall itself, by omitting some parts and covering others with foliage. The River Kenn is given more prominence in the oil painting also. Towne’s pen drawing on the foliage in this study is similar to two Peamore drawings of 1775 (FT061FT062). As a preparatory study for an oil painting, stylistically this drawing is intermediate between the bare studies of the early 1770s (FT021FT022) and the more richly detailed studies of the end of the decade (FT153FT155). It is known that these later oil paintings were painted on commission, whereas at least one earlier work (FT019) remained in Towne’s possession. One reason for the growing detail and compositional completeness seen in Towne’s oil studies over the 1770s may therefore be that the later studies functioned not only as guidance for Towne but also for his clients, who needed more help than Towne to envisage the finished product.

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.