William Jackson (1730 - 1803)
  • Six Drawings from Nature
Pen and ink, monochrome wash
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Asfour & Williamson 1997 (image)


In an album of drawings assembled by the artist’s son Thomas Jackson (1759–1828), which in 1997 was still the property of his descendants.

Associated People & Organisations

Private Collection
Thomas Jackson (1759 - 1828)
Amal Asfour & Paul Williamson, 'William Jackson and John Bampfylde on the Teign', Apollo, No. 426, Apollo Magazine Ltd: London, 1997, pp.37-41


The drawing catalogued here is one of a series of six Jackson made in 1777 on a summer excursion through Devon. The first has been inscribed by Thomas Jackson, “These Six Drawings were done from Nature by my Father on a short, but most delightful, Journey taken by him, Mr. John Bampfylde & myself to Plymouth in the Summer of 1777”. The subjects were a bridge over the River Teign near Chudleigh, another view of a Teign bridge (probably the same structure), two views of waterfalls near Chudleigh (of which FT892 is one), one of the abbey entrance at Tavistock, and one of Brent Bridge. All six drawings are reproduced, and the excursion discussed in detail (especially in relation to Bampfylde’s poetry), in the Asfour & Williamson article of 1997.

As the article states, the rediscovery of this album, and of a 1785 sketchbook (FT893), helps to fill a gap in evidence of Jackson’s post-1760s work. Gainsborough’s influence on Jackson’s style had been heavy in the 1760s, but in the late 1770s their friendship waned, although Gainsborough nevertheless wrote of undertaking a sketching trip with Jackson around Exeter in the summer of 1779. Judging by the rediscovered drawings, during this period Jackson came under the influence of Towne. It is uncertain when the two men first met but, as the music tutor to Lord Courtenay’s family at Powderham Castle from the 1760s to the 1790s,1 Jackson would presumably have been aware of Towne’s work there from 1774 onwards (FT042, FT043, FT044), if he was not more generally aware of Towne’s work, as surely he would have been. Slightly later, Jackson and Towne were both close friends of James White (1745–1825), and all three were solid friends together in the period prior to Towne’s visit to Italy, as in 1780 White wrote to Towne in Rome: “We have our little weekly meetings at Mr Louis’s – Mr Granger’s – Mr Ragueneau’s and Mr Jackson’s (who all think and talk of you and still fancy they see you making one in the party).”2 Towne sang and played the keyboard; he and James White subscribed to Twelve Songs Composed by Joseph Kemp, Late Pupil of Mr Jackson of Exeter in 1799,3 and among Towne’s books at death was Elegies Composed by W. Jackson.4 

As well as this musical contact, Jackson was involved with Towne’s art during the 1770s, as is clear from his letter to Ozias Humphry, dated 29 September 1781, responding to news of Towne’s return to England: “I hope soon (indeed this evening, if your Information be right) to congratulate him on the happy Period he has had of all his ‘Hairbreadth ‘Scapes in the imminent Breach.’ You teach me to expect much from his drawings, which must be doubly valuable from the Places they represent.”5 From this letter, which was sent to London from Exeter, it is apparent that Jackson was close enough to Towne to expect to greet him immediately on his arrival in Exeter. Some months earlier, Jackson had followed Towne’s outbound progress to Rome with great interest, as a letter from James White to Towne describes:

I can scarcely give you a more proper Idea that I entertain of them [Towne’s letters to White], or the Pleasure which all your Friends have received from them, to whom I have communicated their contents, than the Opinion which Mr jackson formed of them, particularly your first letter that it was one of the best that he had ever read – that it gave him a truer Idea of the Countries you travelled through, and the manner of travelling through them than he had ever conceived before and he gave me most Express orders to tell you that you had nothing to do but go on in the way you had set out, to make the Expedition pleasing to yourself and most entertaining to all your friends and Acquaintances.6

In a general sense Asfour & Williamson noted “close affinities” with Towne in Jackson’s 1777 drawings, although there are also elements of Gainsborough’s Bath-period work in the thick, bushy outlines indicated in wash applied with a brush, and in the neatness of foliage clumps. In Jackson’s continental sketchbook of 1785 (FT893) the debt to Towne is complete and beyond doubt. Furthermore, where the distance, composure, and decoration of Jackson’s 1777 sketches resemble Towne’s work of the mid-1770s (for example FT052, FT085, FT094), the Savoy sketches of 1785 display the vigour of Towne’s own continental work of 1781, which Jackson had been so eager to see (for example FT338, FT365, FT383; see also FT165). Therefore, it seems that not only did Jackson come progressively under Towne’s influence between 1777 and 1785, as Gainsborough’s influence waned, but also that certainly between 1777 and 1781, and probably before and after that, Jackson was in touch with and responding to Towne’s work as it was freshly produced.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Devon Record Office, 1508M.
  2. 2 Paul Oppé records: transcript, 27 November 1780.
  3. 3 As did Hubert Cornish, a participant in musical evenings at Barton Place in the early 1800s.
  4. 4 Among several other scores; Appendix 4.
  5. 5 Royal Academy Library, HU2/120-1.
  6. 6 Paul Oppe Records: transcript, 27 November 1780.

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