In March 2010 the Royal Academy of Arts
will present an exhibition of works by Paul Sandby RA (1731-1809). The exhibition will mark the bicentenary of the artists death and celebrates one of the Royal Academy of Arts Foundation Members; it will feature over 80 works by the artist regarded as the father of English watercolour.
Paul Sandby was celebrated in his day. The innovations and subject-matter that he introduced into the practice of watercolour painting in Britain had a profound influence on artists of successive generations, including Thomas Girtin and J.M.W.Turner RA. However, from the midnineteenth century, Sandbys work slipped into obscurity. This exhibition aims to redress Sandbys position in the history of British art. It will highlight the range and variety of Sandbys techniques and subject matter: from his exquisite watercolour depictions of the British countryside from Surrey to Scotland by way of Wales, to his print series of street vendors which capture everyday life in eighteenth-century London with Hogarthian wit. Sandby portrayed scenes throughout Britain, helping to give visual form to the idea of the United Kingdom as a nation state. Through his extensive tours, initially as a military draughtsman and later as a professional artist, Sandby pioneered landscape painting in Scotland and Wales. He sought new sites and portrayed familiar ones with a fresh eye. His art is unrivalled among that of his contemporaries for its remarkable range of rural, urban, modern and historical subjects. His work captures the diverse nature of the landscape of his day and provides an important record of a country experiencing rapid social, economic and political change.
Earlier in the eighteenth century, enthusiasm for travel on the Continent had abounded among those making the Grand Tour, but towards the end of the century Sandby witnessed the rise of the picturesque tour within the British Isles. As tourists sought variety of scenery, evidence of ancient historical monuments, usually in ruinous condition, and intimations of early industrialisation, they demanded visual representations that not only recorded the actual topographical and architectural detail of specific sites but also conveyed their distinct atmospheres and historical and emotional resonances. Sandby used his mastery of the watercolour technique and his innovative application of aquatint to meet the ever-growing expectations of the increasingly affluent and leisured middle and upper classes.
The exhibition will focus on the finest examples of Sandbys work from a career which spanned fifty years. His celebrated watercolours including the majestic landscape The Rainbow (1800) and the picturesque depiction of Part of Wenlock Abbey in Shropshire (1770) will be on display, together with works which demonstrate the exceptional range of his creative output, from maps of North Britain (one of which is over 3 metres in length), to paintings, prints and his set of twelve London Cries, including the curiously titled My pretty little Gimy Tarters (1759). The exhibition will draw on all the major holdings of this prolific artists work, including the Royal Collection, the British Museum, the Yale Centre for British Art, the Royal Academy of Arts and the extensive collection of Sandbys work held by Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, as well as private collections from which works will be being exhibited for the first time.