Soon after it opened, I went to the
In this light, the exhibition is full of interest. First, of course, it is pleasant to walk through half a dozen rooms lightly hung with paintings, and to admire them free of crowds (even on a Friday evening, there were perhaps five to ten people in each room) – thinking of the sweating, obscuring hordes elbowing each other in the rooms below, straining for a glimpse of a Van Gogh at the RA’s main exhibition.
The work of Paul Sandby is varied: there are maps that he worked on for the government, aids to the suppression of Scotland; there are vicious cartoons in the style of – and ridiculing – Hogarth; there are the famous cries of London series of illustrations of street traders; and there are topographical and landscape paintings of countryside, great houses, and other striking views. As far as I recall, everything is British – I don’t think he painted outside the country, unlike the habit of the painters after him.
I enjoyed it, and I shall probably revisit. I shall also visit the concurrent exhibition, in an adjoining room, of eighteenth century watercolours from the RA’s own collection, to see what others were painting during his lifetime, and what the young bloods were doing as Sandby came into old age. But I did feel that, for me at least, Sandby’s work was more purely illustrative than I would like, and seemed at times a little flat on the paper. This is, I realise, setting a very high standard indeed, and I wouldn’t want it thought that I was dismissive of his work at all. There is a quiet elegance, a congruity of colour and composition which is very attractive, and a subdued sense of drama in several paintings, especially of trees, and one or two of the views of