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The Prints of Paul Sandby (1731-1809): A Catalogue Raisonné by Ann V. Gunn

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Research News Oct - Dec 2016

The Prints of Paul Sandby (1731-1809): A Catalogue Raisonné by Ann V. Gunn

I first worked on Paul Sandby when I curated the exhibition The Painters’ Progress: the life and times of Thomas and Paul Sandby at Nottingham Castle Museum in 1986.  The Nottingham-born brothers were significant figures in the eighteenth century British art world; both were founder members of the Royal Academy, Thomas was the Academy’s first professor of Architecture, and Paul became prominent in the development of British watercolour and landscape painting.   Gainsborough called him ‘the only Man of Genius’ to paint ‘real Views from nature’. His images contributed to an emerging appreciation of British landscape, to antiquarian interests, and to the development of the picturesque tour within the British Isles, and his printmaking activities were integral to his career.

The 2009 bi-centenary of Sandby’s death provided the opportunity for a re-appraisal of Sandby’s work with a major exhibition. Aspects of his printmaking were discussed but it was not possible to appreciate the overall scope of his output and achievement in this medium; the lack of a catalogue was described as ‘probably the most serious gap in British print studies’, a gap I hope my book has filled. It also provides a base for future research.  Thirty years on from my exhibition, I am still finding new aspects of Sandby’s life, work and connections to research.

Sandby was prolific –in the end I identified 376 engravings, etchings and aquatints produced from the 1740s to the 1780s, and was able to reject a number of prints previously attributed to him. His print output was interestingly varied in subject matter.  In etching, he produced many landscapes but also illustrations to Allan Ramsay’s poem The Gentle Shepherd, a series of Cries of London, and some quite cruel satirical prints directed at William Hogarth and the Marquis of Bute (Fig 1.) (the subject of a forthcoming article). In addition to his own landscapes, he reproduced those of other artists, including prospects in Windsor Great Park after his brother’s watercolours, views in North America based on sketches by Governor Pownall, and the imaginary forest scenery of a stage production of Tasso’s Jerusalem Liberated after John Collins.  In aquatint he reproduced David Allan’s scenes from the Roman Carnival and Ionian antiquities from an expedition funded by the Society of Dilettanti.

His aquatints are his most important contribution; he published around 140 plates between 1775 and the late 1780s, chiefly of English and Welsh land- and townscapes (Fig. 2). While the invention of aquatint cannot be attributed to any one artist, it was certainly Sandby who coined its name. He enjoyed the process so much that he could write ‘these four months past I have scarcely done anything else, the work is so delightful and easy to me now in the execution I do it with the same ease but with more pleasure than on paper’, a pleasure that is communicated to anyone who has the opportunity to study the prints.  

Fig. 1 Cat. No. 175 The BUTIFYER: A Touch upon the Times Plate 1 1762, etching

 ‌AG RN 2

Fig. 2 Cat. No. 265 Part of the Town and Castle of Ludlow, 1779, aquatint and etching




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