Paul Sandby, Part of Wenlock Abbey in Shropshire, c.1770s, Watercolour over graphite, 352 x 547 mm, Royal Academy of Arts, London, © Royal Academy of Arts / Slingsby.

Watercolorist Paul Sandby, Paving the Way for J.M.W. Turner

Paul Sandby, The North Terrace, Windsor Castle, Looking West, c.1765, Bodycolour over graphite, 379 x 545 mm, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Paul Mellon Collection.

Paul Sandby, View in Luton Park, c. 1765, Pen, bodycolour and watercolour over graphite, 535 x 740 mm, Private collection.

Paul Sandby, The Studio of Paul Sandby, St. George's Row, c.1772, Bodycolour and watercolour, 173 x 233 mm, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.

Paul Sandby, The Butifyer. A Touch upon The Times Plate 1, September 1762, Etching, 251 x 202 mm, Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum, London, Photo copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.


Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
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The Sackler Wing of Galleries
Paul Sandby RA (1731-1809):
Picturing Britain,
A Bicentenary Exhibition

March 13-June 13, 2010

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 mid-19th century, Sandby’s work slipped into obscurity. This exhibition aims to redress Sandby’s position in the history of British art. It will highlight the range and variety of Sandby’s 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.

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 artist’s 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."

Earlier in the 18th 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 Sandby’s work from a career which spanned 50 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 artist’s work, including the Royal Collection, the British Museum, the Yale Centre for British Art, the Royal Academy of Arts and the extensive collection of Sandby’s work held by Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, as well as private collections from which works will be being exhibited for the first time.

Paul Sandby RA (1731-1809): Picturing Britain, A Bicentenary Exhibition is organised by Nottingham City Museums and Galleries in association with Royal Academy of Arts, London. The exhibition is curated by Professor Stephen Daniels, Professor of Cultural Geography, University of Nottingham and Director of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council programme in Landscape and Environment, Dr John Bonehill, Lecturer in the History of Art, University of Glasgow and Sarah Skinner, Keeper of Art, Nottingham Castle; with Christopher Baker, Deputy Director, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh and Maryanne Stevens, Director of Academic Affairs, Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Paul Sandby, Socking Vendor, c.1759, Pen, ink and watercolour over graphite, 198 x 150 mm, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.

Paul Sandby, Horse Fair on Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh, 1750, Watercolour over graphite, 244 x 376 mm, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Photo Antonia Reeve.