Exmouth has been blessed with several painters taking up residence in the town over the years.

Sometimes they chose Exmouth for their health, as the town has always enjoyed a very mild climate, but it also has the light and outstanding estuary views that artists seek. One such was Francis Danby, ARA, arguably the most famous one to have lived here.

Francis Danby was born on 16 November 1793 in Wexford in South East Ireland. He was one of two sets of twins and his father was a farmer who died suddenly in 1807, which caused the family to move to Dublin. It was here that the young Francis started practising drawing at Royal Dublin’s Society School and learnt to paint landscapes under James Arthur O’Connor and George Petrie. In 1813 all three decided to go to London but the venture did not last long as they ran out of money and decided to walk home! At Bristol they stopped and Danby discovered he could sell his watercolours, albeit for small amounts. He stayed in Bristol and sent his paintings to London for exhibitions and his by now large oil paintings that were beginning to attract attention.

Around 1818/19 he and his fellow artists were becoming known as The Bristol School. In 1829 he exhibited his painting The Upas Tree at The British Institution and in 1821 he had his painting Disappointed Love exhibited at The Royal Academy. The Upas Tree and The Delivery of Israel in 1825 made him an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA). He left Bristol for London in 1824 and exhibited his painting Opening of the Sixth Seal at The British Institution, for which he received a prize of 200 guineas.

In 1828 the sculptor Christopher Moore made a bust of Danby. The following year Danby’s wife left him for another painter, Paul Falconer Poole. Following this episode, he left England and went to live by Lake Geneva in Switzerland for ten years and then he moved to Paris. Returning to England in 1840 he exhibited his 15 feet wide painting, The Deluge which was a great success and put him firmly back amongst the most popular artists in England. By now both his sons had become established artists. James exhibited at The Royal Academy and the younger Thomas specialised in watercolours of Welsh scenes.

In 1847 Danby moved to Exmouth, taking up residence at Rill Cottage in North Street which adjoins the road now called Danby Terrace. There is a story that Danby used a studio at the rear of a shop in Exeter Road, although he may have had an alternative one because at that time it had an uninterrupted view of the estuary. Possibly the studio in question might have been in part of the garden of Sir John Colleton’s house, near the present library. Early in 1856 Danby moved to The Shell House (since demolished) on The Maer.

Besides his painting, Danby was also a proficient boat builder. Here, where the cleft at The Maer was the original outlet for the Litteham Brook, to the sea, he built his boats. There was Dragonfly, his yacht, and he also had a boat called The Chase.

While living in Exmouth he painted what some regard as his finest work, Dead Calm: Sunset at The Bight, Exmouth. He lived out his final years in the town and died on 9 February 1861, aged 68. He is buried in the churchyard of St John’s in the Wilderness. In 1937, near the drive of Marpool Hall (since demolished) in Phear Park an Austrian Pine Tree was planted in his memory. This was a sapling from the tree that Danby had brought with him from Naples and which grew in his garden at The Shell House on the Maer.

If you would like to find out more about Exmouth Museum please visit www.exmouthmuseum.co.uk or email Mike at exmouthmuseum@gmail.com