Paul Sandby was the English watercolourist supreme of the late 18th/ early 19th century. A recent exhibition of his works, held to celebrate the bicentenary of his death has been held at his birthplace, Nottingham, and this will soon transfer to the Royal Academy in London, where it will be on show from 13th March to the 13th June. The catalogue of the exhibition however has been made available as a hardback book, edited by John Bonhill and Stephen Daniels, the research for which was conducted with the help of generous aid and support from the Paul Mellon Centre for the studies of British Art . It is full of marvellous images of late 18th/ early19th century England, many of which have great relevance to incidents/references in Jane Austen’s novels , not least his depiction of ruined abbeys
and ancient castles which would set Catherine Morland’s heart a-beating, and views of army encampments fit enough to enrapture the hearts of Lydia, Kitty and even Mary Bennet.
(Note: Please do enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them: the wait while they load will replay dividends!)
Paul Sandby and his fellow artist and elder brother, Thomas began their careers apprenticed to the Nottingham surveyor Thomas Peat. After this Thomas Sandby was engaged as a military draughtsman in the Tower of London. In 1747 Paul Sandby submitted specimens of his work to the Board of Ordinance and after the establishment of the military survey in Scotland in September 1747 he was appointed draughtsman to the survey. This was of course a time when the ability to draw, survey accurately and to make maps was an essential skill of the military. No satellite scans or photographs were available to make surveying the land an easy task.
Paul Sandby, as a member of this survey, was ordered to make maps of the Scottish highlands as part of the Hanoverian campaign to restore peace in Scotland after the Jacobite rising of 1745. Sandby worked for the survey for four years producing not only excellent maps
and surveys of buildings
but also landscape drawing and figurative studies which are now of great interest to us for the details of everyday life they reveal. For example, just look at the detail captured in this scene of a hanging of a soldier John Young, whose offence was to forge banknotes, taken in Edinburgh in 1751.
Sandby returned to live in London in and then for some years he lived in Windsor with his brother Thomas and his family. During this time he made many studies of Windsor Castle , immortalizing it as it appeared when it was the home of George III and his family and before George IV and is architect, Jeffrey Wyatville remodelled it in the 1820s, into the show castle/palace we can still visit today. In Sandby’s sketches and watercolours of Windsor we see it as would have Mr Churchill –Franks Churchill’s “adoptive” father in Emma- when he lived in Windsor, just after Mrs Churchill’s decease.
The majority of Sandby’s Windsor watercolours were collected by Sir Joseph Banks but the Prince of Wales was also fact an admirer of Sandby and collected some of his pictures. This is one from the Royal Collection, of the Duke of Cumberland ‘s page:
That he was a favourite of the Prince of Wales would not had endeared him to Jane Austen. But we will simply have to overlook that ;-) His works are breathtakingly beautiful- and I love to examine them closely for the intimacy of life in that era that they reveal. The studies of women working in kitchen and laundries are among some of my favourites. This is one, again from the Royal Collection, of a cook making a pie.
I love to discern the detail of her surroundings.
Here is his picture of Turkey Mill and Vinters the home of Susannah Whatman, (whom we met along with her husband, last week in our first Housekeepers post, ) which I’m sure you will agree is exquisite.
Paul Sanby was also an acclaimed drawing master and was patronised by some of the most influential men of the era. As the article about him in the Oxford Dicitonary of National Biography by Luke Herrmann records:
From early in his career Sandby was also busy as a drawing master, counting several of his patrons, such as Lord Harcourt and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, among his pupils. In 1768 he was appointed chief drawing master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, at a salary of £150 per annum, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1796, and when there he lived in lodgings at Old Charlton in Kent. Officers in the Royal Artillery and the engineers were trained at Woolwich, and Sandby was able to introduce a wide range of the sons of the aristocracy and gentry to the practice and appreciation of landscape drawing. Through some of his Woolwich pupils Sandby’s influence spread as far afield as Canada.
The pictures of army encampments contained in this book are fascinating. This picture shows a detail of his record of the encampment in St James Park in – you can see the towers of Westminster Abbey clearly visible across the park.
This aquatint dates from the time of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1780 ,when rioting, which began in St Georges Field on the south bank of the Thames wreaked havoc across the capital, and was so memorable that when nearly 20 years later Jane Austen was writing Northanger Abbey , the very mention of rioting in London was enough to strike horror into the tender heart of Eleanor Tilney:
“Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.”
“Riot! What riot?”
“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”
(Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14)
Paul Sandby married Anne Stogden and they lived in Dufours Court, Broad Street, Carnaby Market in London. They had three children The elder son, Paul, was an officer in the army and died at Barbados in 1793. The second son, was also an artist and succeeded his father as drawing master at Woolwich. His friends recorded that Sandby was a man of great friendliness and generosity. He had a strong sense of humour and wrote and conversed fluently and effectively.
Here he is, depicted sketching from a window in his house in Bayswater, by his fellow artist, Francis Cotes.
He was a founder member of active member of the Royal Academy, and remained an active member of the Academy all his lifeand became a popular and very influential figure in London’s artistic and literary society. Thomas Gasinborough thought highly of him especially with regard to his landscapes, and described him as
the only Man of Genius … who has employ’d his pencil that way
In 1772 he and his family moved to his final London home, 4 St George’s Row, Bayswater, close to the Bayswater turnpike on the Oxford Road, with fine views over Hyde Park. He had a studio at the end of the garden, probably designed by his brother, and this was used for teaching and for his weekly meetings where he
drew round him a circle of intellectual and attached friends, comprising the most distinguished artists and amateurs of the day. His house became quite a centre of attraction … when, on each Sunday, after Divine Service, his friends assembled, and formed a conversazione on the arts, the sciences and the general literature of the day.
(See: The life of James Gandon, esq.(1846) edited by T. J.Mulvany )
Sandby died at home at 4 St George’s Row on 8 November 1809, and was buried at St George’s, Hanover Square.
I can thoroughly recommend this book to you: the illustrations I have included here in this post are only a tiny amount of the total contained in this fine book.
The detail in the watercolors and aquatints is amazing and gives an accurate idea of what like was really like to live in London and the English countryside of Jane Austen’s era .It is quite possible to lose oneself within them , imagining that many of her characters, Emma and Mr Knightley, for example, might saunter into the frame at any minute…….