View of Windsor Castle from the banks of the River
, gouache and watercolour on paper, 1794
© Royal Academy of Arts, London Ruins in a landscape
, pencil and watercolour on paper
© Royal Academy of Arts, London Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire, The South Transept and Converted Prior's Lodge Seen from the North Transept
, pencil and watercolour on paper, 1779
© Royal Academy of Arts, London
Sir William Beechey RA Portrait of Paul Sandby RA
, oil on canvas, c.1789
© Royal Academy of Arts, London
Artist of the Month - December 2013
Paul Sandby RA (1730-1809)
Paul Sandby was a pivotal water-colourist in the development of British landscape painting. As a Foundation Member of the Royal Academy, he did much to elevate watercolour from its primary association with amateurs and draughtsmen, establishing it as a medium that could compete with oil painting.
Sandby's work View of Windsor Castle from the banks of the River  is one of many images of Windsor that Paul Sandby and his brother Thomas drew over a period of fifty years. Their work was so collaborative it can be difficult to distinguish between their watercolours, although Paul generally focused on the castle while Thomas painted the Great Park. The Windsor works of both artists were primarily recognized for their skilled use of perspective.
Sandby developed a reputation for his exactness and attention to detail in depicting real, existing landscapes. Thomas Gainsborough wrote in 1762 that Sandby was the man to choose if one wanted 'real Views from Nature in this Country'. Because of this reputation he has been frequently regarded through history as simply a more literal, less innovative precursor to the later great British landscape artists. However despite Sandby's attention to detail, in this work he chooses a view that frames the palace in a typically Picturesque manner in the tradition of Claude Lorraine, with a body of water receding to the horizon, framed by trees.
In opposition to this perception of his paintings, Sandby's work Ruins in a Landscape  presents a view of a ruined building that may derive from a British church or castle, and yet the watercolour's landscape appears closer to the Roman campagna. Sandby may have adapted the scene from another artist's earlier print or drawing. This inclusion of the Italian element was unusual for Sandby, as his scenes so frequently 'considered the prospects that are presented in our provinces' and evoke 'a style perfectly original and English,' as a critic put it in 1792. This invention of a hybrid British-Italianate scene may be linked to the popular association between the watercolour and travel, due to watercolour's fast-drying qualities and portability. The Grand Tour led to a great popularity among the British in Italianate landscapes by the likes of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorraine. Many of these were, like this work, invented composite scenes rather than a real place. At the same time there was a rise in the late eighteenth century of touring within Britain, rather than taking the Grand Tour. This created a fashion for Picturesque views of ruined abbeys and castles, such as Sandby's watercolour of Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire  . Sandby was particularly well placed to satisfy this public craving, as he travelled a great deal in Wales and Scotland, becoming one of the first artists to capture the remote, Romantic views that would be so important to British landscapes.
Sir William Beechey's portrait of Paul Sandby  shows him as a commanding, assertive presence, filling the forefront of the composition with his well-dressed figure. The receding landscape in the background is both in keeping with portraiture tradition and perhaps a reference to Sandby's own career as a landscape painter. The painting disguises Sandby's humble origins. The son of a framework knitter, Sandby did not have the more illustrious background of landscape painters like Constable or Gainsborough, and he did not have the prestige and wealth that accompanied grand history painting or expensive society portraiture like Reynolds' work. His financial needs kept him tethered to his various government occupations, limiting the extent to which he could innovate in his paintings. Also as a result of the kinds of employment he needed to seek, his works often reflected a patriotism and Loyalist stance. This may be read into the way View of Windsor Castle gives an idyllic impression of the palace, an icon of the monarchy and of British power.