Paul Sandby - the father of English landscape painting at Nottingham Castle

By Culture24 Staff | 04 August 2009
a painting of a wooded scene with cattle being driven through a central path and a rainbow visible in the distance

(Above) Paul Sandby, The Rainbow. © Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Exhibition: Picturing Britain: Paul Sandby, Nottingham Castle, Nottingham, until October 18 2009

The work of landscape artist Paul Sandby might not be as familiar to modern audiences as Constable, Turner or Reynolds, but in his day the Nottingham-born painter was at the vanguard of a movement which popularised paintings of the British landscape.

Picturing Britain at Nottingham Castle coincides with the bicentenary of the painter's death and draws together local, national and international collections to reveal Sandby's skilled eyes as a draughtsman and satirist as well as his pivotal role in British landscape painting.

Born in 1731, Sandby developed into a prodigious teenage talent, and in the early 1740s he joined the topographical drawing room of the Board of Ordnance at the Tower of London, where he excelled.

a painting of a stately home with formal park in the foreground

(Above) Paul Sandby, Tea at Englefield Green. Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.

Visitors are given a taste of this skill on the drawing board thanks to a spectacular three-metre section of a 1750 map, lent by the British Library. But it is his landscapes and how he awoke the British people to the natural beauty of their own country which dominate the show.

"The kind of landscape Sandby painted is so familiar to us today it is hard to realise how innovative it was when it was first created, collected and exhibited," says Nottingham City Culture portfolio holder, Councillor Dave Trimble. "Sandby took the topographical scene and developed it into art."

The art he produced in watercolour from 1746 onwards, while mapping the remote Scottish Highlands from the famous drawing room of Edinburgh Castle, is stunning. Pastoral views of parklands and woods vie for attention with bucolic evocations of ruins, hills and mills.

an etching of a working water mill with hills behind it

(Above) Paul Sandby, The Iron Forge. Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

By 1752 he was accomplished enough to take up a post producing landscapes of the royal estates at Windsor, where he painted some outstanding views of the castle in different lights and weather conditions.

During this time he also produced some aquatint engravings of the Welsh landscape for the naturalist and explorer Sir Joseph Banks, and a series of cutting satirical sketches in response to the engravings of William Hogarth.

Until about 1771 Sandby also travelled throughout Britain capturing its picturesque scenery in a series of panoramas showcasing the great estates of the UK.

a panoramic painting of an early Georgian town square with town houses either side of it

(Above) Thomas Sandby, Nottingham Market Square from the East. Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.

With an impressive 112 pieces, drawn from national and international collections, Picturing Britain offers an impressive overview of these works and includes drawings, many watercolours and gouaches, etchings, aquatints and even a few rare oils.

The exhibition also highlights work by his brother Thomas, notably a large panoramic watercolour of Nottingham's Old Market Square painted in the early 1740s.

In 1768, Sandby was appointed chief drawing master to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, a position he retained until 1799. When he died in London 10 years later, obituaries defined him as "the father of modern landscape painting in watercolours". It remains a fitting description.

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