Abbott, John White
- Susan Morris
English watercolourist, painter and apothecary. He was nephew of the prominent lawyer John White (1744–1825). An important patron of Francis Towne, he spent his entire career in Exeter as an apothecary and surgeon. Abbot was a keen amateur artist, taking lessons from Towne, but although he was an Honorary Exhibitor of landscape oils at the Royal Academy, London, from 1793 to 1805 and again in 1810 and 1812, he never sold a picture. His oil Fordland (1791; priv. col., see Oppé, pl. xxxii) is a plein-air study of woodland that owes much to Gainsborough’s early work in its naturalism and broken, delicate handling.
In 1791 Abbott toured Scotland, the Lake District, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire. He toured Monmouthshire in 1797, and again in 1827, as well as Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. He also made studies of Richmond, Surrey, in 1842, but the bulk of his work was done in the vicinity of Exeter. The Mouth of the Exe (priv. col., see Oppé, pl. xxxv, b) shows him adopting Towne’s method of bold pen outline and monochrome wash to create a drawing that is topographically accurate and yet sensitive to the effects of light on foliage. The brightly coloured forest watercolour Kerswell, Devon (1813; London, V&A) has the classical grandeur of woodlands by Claude Lorrain. He made many imaginary Claudean-style landscapes, as well as watercolour copies of Towne’s Italian drawings and a number of landscape etchings (London, BM). Watercolours such as Exeter Cathedral (Eton, Berks, Coll. Lib.) show an acute observation of figures that has more in common with Paul Sandby than with Towne. Abbott’s watercolours are less bold in composition than Towne’s but display a sensitivity to nature, particularly to tree formations, that is part of the intense exploration of landscape by English artists in the late 18th century and the early 19th. In 1825 Abbott inherited his uncle’s property and retired to Fordland, near Exeter; in 1831 he was made Deputy Lieutenant of Devonshire.
- A. P. Oppé: ‘John White Abbott of Exeter’, Walpole Society, 13 (1924–5), pp. 67–84
- I. A. Williams: ‘John White Abbott: A Devonshire Artist’, Apollo, 17 (1933), pp. 84–6
- M. Hardie: The Eighteenth Century (1966), 1 of Water-colour Painting in Britain (London, 1965–9)
- Paintings and Drawings by Francis Towne and John White Abbott (exh. cat., Exeter, Royal Albert Mem. Mus., 1971)