Show focuses on "neglected" British painter Sandby

Fri Mar 12, 2010 5:51am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Art history has been less than kind to Paul Sandby, an 18th century British painter whose name was eclipsed by contemporaries like Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds.

But a new exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy sets out to remind visitors of Sandby's importance in promoting the status of the watercolor, recognizing the power of print and taking on William Hogarth, whose works he dared to parody.

A founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768, Sandby was regarded as "the father of English watercolor," and in focusing on landscapes and scenes across England, Scotland and Wales rather than Italy, he left an important record of social, economic and political change.

His subjects ranged from street hawkers to battlefields, and sweeping landscapes to grand aristocratic estates, using innovative painting techniques which he passed on to students at the Academy and amateur artists.

Exhibition organizers considered it "remarkable" that such an accomplished painter apparently had no formal training, but learned the basic skills of his trade as a military draughtsman whose early role was to make maps.

As a young man he moved to Soho in London, then the center of the art world, and had the audacity to take on Hogarth, an elder statesmen of British art, in a series of viciously satirical prints.

The target of his attack was Hogarth's 1753 book "The Analysis of Beauty," which set out with the aim of "fixing fluctuating ideas of taste."

In one pictorial reply, Sandby depicts a grotesque Hogarth "sinking under the weight of his Saturnine Analysis" and argues, with references that would have been obvious to viewers at the time, that Hogarth copied many of his ideas from elsewhere.   Continued...