Friday, 18 June 2010


Francis Danby, the Irish painter, came to live in Exmouth in 1847. He was already fifty four years old but he was to spend fourteen productive years in a grand house down by the beach overlooking the sea. This was the first house built on the Maer and it was called Shell House. Danby died here in 1861. The house was demolished in 1925 to make way for a sports ground.

His had been a chequered career but he was well liked in Exmouth. His kindness to young artists won him many friends. He had moreover learned the secret of eternal youth. He wrote to George Petrie “Let us exult in the confidence that we belong to that class of our fellow-men who by the elixir you describe, ‘the true enjoyment of nature’ retain the heart of youth though the eye grow dim, the hand tremble and the hair turn grey.”

Danby, I am sure, truly enjoyed the Estuary. He painted a great variety of subjects in his lifetime but he often painted the setting sun and he was a dab hand at painting tall ships at anchor. One of his early triumphs, in 1824, had been when the great Sir Thomas Lawrence, the favourite portrait painter of the age, bought, at a great price, his painting ‘Sunset at Sea after a Storm.’ No doubt one thing that brought him to Exmouth was the grandeur of the sunsets across the Estuary which he painted again and again.

We who live on the eastern bank of the Exe enjoy wonderful sunsets. Every time I see the sun set in glory across the wide Estuary and behind the Haldon hills I think of the paintings of Francis Danby.

Say then, friend, is it Art that copies Nature or does Nature copy Art?

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