Magazine article The Spectator

Arboreal Glory

Magazine article The Spectator

Arboreal Glory

Article excerpt

Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain, a Bicentenary Exhibition

Royal Academy, until 13 June

As Paul Sandby's dates 1731-1809 suggest, last year was his bicentenary, when this exhibition started out in Nottingham. Sandby lived in that illustrious city before heading north to Edinburgh, when he was appointed draughtsman to the Military Survey of North Britain in 1747. It is therefore most appropriate that this exhibition travelled from Nottingham to Edinburgh before coming south to the RA. It follows Sandby's own trajectory in this. He moved to London in 1751, to stay with his elder brother Thomas at Windsor and in Soho, and became involved in the St Martin's Lane Academy. He began to make prints, first of all satirising Hogarth's 'Analysis of Beauty' and then producing a series of London Cries. His connection with Windsor was confirmed when his brother was appointed Deputy Ranger of Windsor Great Park in 1765, responsible for major landscaping schemes. Both Sandby brothers became founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, Paul as a member of Council and Thomas as Professor of Architecture.

It is thus highly appropriate that Paul Sandby should be shown now in the Sackler Galleries of the RA, and that Thomas should get in on the act. But his presence can be confusing. It seems that Thomas frequently collaborated with Paul on pictures, besides being an immensely talented draughtsman in his own right. Both brothers were trained in topographical drawing and cartography, and brought to their work a remarkable accuracy of detail matched by a genuine sympathy for nature.

This exhibition offers another instance of the advantage of viewing a display in reverse.

The last room contains by far the most interesting and original work and, when I visited, it was the least crowded. As usual, people were lingering in Room 1, in the introduction to the show, while their enthusiasm was as yet undimmed, their ardour bright. Inevitably, following the chronological course, by the time they reach the last room, their energies flag, their attention is less easy to focus, they're looking forward to departing. These are not ideal circumstances in which to view the best work of the show. Of course, there are good things in the first room, besides the slightly insipid portrait of Sandby by Francis Cotes. There's a large and rather beautiful map in a central cabinet, and a couple of fine watercolours - 'Nithsdale, with Drumlanrig' (c.1751) and a lucid panorama of Edinburgh. Also a lovely little pen-and-ink study with watercolour of a surveying party near Kinloch Rannoch.

Room 2 concentrates on Sandby's street life drawings and prints, but I find it difficult to be excited by Sandby the printmaker. The Street Cries have charm and exact observation despite a certain obviousness, and there is evidence everywhere of great skill but not a great deal of feeling. Room 3 takes us back to watercolours, and in particular to the great Thames panoramas done from the gardens of Somerset House. These, collaborative works with brother Thomas, are remarkable, not least for the architectural detail that was Thomas' speciality. Another large collaborative work here is the impressive 'Camp on Warley Common' (1778).

Room 4 contains some very fine drawings - I particularly enjoyed Thomas Sandby's 'Nottingham Market Square from the East', and a lovely monochrome of that city's castle by Paul, together with two exquisite watercolours of a lady. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.