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The Picturesque Prospect of Architecture: Thomas Sandby's Royal Academy Lectures

  • Sigrid De Jong

Thomas Sandby (1721/3–98), who served as the Royal Academy's first professor of architecture from 1768 to 1798, shaped his students’ architectural thought. His lectures represent some of the crucial developments in viewing architecture that occurred during the period. They are vibrant expressions of how a viewer's experience of buildings informs architectural teaching and design, and demonstrate the importance of architectural experience for eighteenth-century architectural thought. This article explores Sandby's thinking, first in his own observations of buildings in his diary of a tour through Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and then in his teachings, which functioned as a kind of manual for future architects. It examines the diary and the lectures for his ideas on the effects of architecture — a building's situation, exterior, interior and decorations — in relation to the picturesque, one of the dominant concepts in his texts and drawings. Sandby's architectural thought is shown to be a relatively early statement of the picturesque applied to architecture and its setting.

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1 Sandby delivered six lectures each year, from 1770 to 1798, regularly altering and adding elements. It is not known when exactly Sandby started to show the drawings for the Bridge of Magnificence, but it was probably between 1776 and 1780. Two drawings of the bridge were shown at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1781. The project's connections to William Chambers's Somerset House (construction of which began in 1776, and which is depicted in some of the drawings) suggest it should be dated in the years following the completion of Chambers's design. Herrmann, Luke, Paul and Thomas Sandby (London, 1986), pp. 40, 144. See also Savage, Nicholas, ‘Exhibiting Architecture: Strategies of Representation in English Architectural Exhibition Drawings, 1760–1836’, in Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780–1836, ed. Solkin, David H. (New Haven and London, 2001), pp. 211–13.

2 Soane, John, Royal Academy Lecture V, in Watkin, David, Sir John Soane: Enlightenment Thought and the Royal Academy Lectures (Cambridge, 1996), p. 564.

3 The original manuscripts of Sandby's lectures (in his own handwriting, with additions and changes), together with a transcription made in 1849 by his son William, are in the RIBA's Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1–2. An annotated copy of the lectures, made by Soane and his pupils (dated 1807), is in Sir John Soane's Museum [hereafter Soane Museum], MS AL 31B. Sandby's drawings are now in different collections — the Soane Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum and RIBA in London, as well as the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Gough Collection), Vassar College in New York and Royal Collection at Windsor Castle — but his lecture drawings have not been identified.

4 As Watkin suggests. Sandby's brother Paul stated that the production of the lecture drawings ‘had been the employment of his [Thomas's] life’ (cited in Watkin, Soane, pp. 55–56).

5 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, ff. 49, 50.

6 Watkin, Soane, p. 55.

7 Sandby became grand architect of the Order of Freemasons in 1775 and joint architect of the King's Works (with James Adam) in 1777. On the Royal Academy, see, for example, Fenton, James, School of Genius: A History of the Royal Academy of Arts (London, 2006); Smith, Charles Saumarez, The Company of Artists: The Origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London (London, 2012); Hutchison, Sidney C., The History of the Royal Academy, 1768–1968 (London, 1986); Sandby, William, The History of the Royal Academy of Arts from its Foundation in 1768 to the Present Time, With Biographical Notices of All the Members (London, 1862).

8 The lectures form a main source for my research project and forthcoming book Experience and Design: The Emergence of Architectural Experience in Paris and London, 1750–1815, financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Among the few scholars, besides Watkin, who have given the lectures some attention are Pierre de la Ruffinière du Prey, London, Parma, Dresden: Exposition, Competition, Exhibition’, in Companion to Eighteenth-Century Architecture, ed. van Eck, Caroline and de Jong, Sigrid (Chichester, 2017), pp. 522–45, and Bonehill, John, ‘“The Centre of Pleasure and Magnificence”: Paul and Thomas Sandby's London’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 75.3 (2012), pp. 365–92. As with Bonehill, scholars mostly treat Thomas Sandby together with his brother Paul: for example, Ball, Johnson, Paul and Thomas Sandby, Royal Academicians: An Anglo-Danish Saga of Art, Love and War in Georgian England (Bath, 1985); Oppé, A.P., The Drawings of Paul and Thomas Sandby in the Collection of his Majesty the King at Windsor Castle (Oxford and London, 1947); Roberts, Jane, Views of Windsor: Watercolours by Thomas and Paul Sandby (London, 1995). On the Sandby brothers and the Royal Academy, see Postle, Martin, ‘The Sandbys and the Royal Academy’, in Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain, ed. Bonehill, John and Daniels, Stephen (London, 2009), pp. 2837.

9 Watkin, Soane, p. 57.

10 Ibid., p. 42.

11 It was only later that picturesque theorists started to connect the concept to architectural design, as in Gilpin, William, Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, on Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland, 2 vols (London, 1786), and Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; On Picturesque Travel; and On Sketching Landscape: To Which is Added a Poem, on Landscape Painting (London, 1792); Price, Uvedale, A Dialogue on the Distinct Characters of the Picturesque and the Beautiful. In Answer to the Objections of Mr Knight (Hereford, 1801); and Knight, Richard Payne, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (London, 1805). See the second chapter in my Rediscovering Architecture: Paestum in Eighteenth-Century Architectural Experience and Theory (New Haven and London, 2014).

12 The original diary is in the collection of Sidney Sabin and was consulted by Herrmann (Paul and Thomas Sandby, p. 57). An eighteenth-century copy in the British Library (Add MS 42232) was consulted for this article. The drawings Sandby made are also copied in this version. A large number of the original accompanying drawings are in the British Museum.

13 British Library [hereafter BL], Add MS 42232, f. 28v.

14 See Whale, John, ‘Romantics, Explorers and Picturesque Travellers’, in The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770, ed. Copley, Stephen and Garside, Peter (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 175–95, and Andrews, Malcolm, The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760–1800 (Stanford, CA, 1989). A recent publication is Anderson, Jocelyn, Touring and Publicizing: English Country Houses in the Long Eighteenth Century (London, 2018).

15 BL, Add MS 42232, f. 22v.

16 Ibid., f. 32r.

17 Ibid., f. 22v.

18 Ibid., f. 32v.

19 Ibid., f. 32r.

20 Ibid., f. 43v.

21 Ibid., f. 46v.

22 Two examples of contemporary publications on the subject are Whitehurt's, John Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth (London, 1778) and Gilpin's, William Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (London, 1786).

23 BL, Add MS 42232, f. 24v. Bonehill argues that the natural locations and industrial sites such as the lead mines described by Sandby were crucial in the development of domestic tourism and scientific inquiry (Picturing Britain, cat. 75, p. 186).

24 Further drawings of rockworks designed by Sandby for Virginia Water are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

25 BL, Add MS 42232, f. 50r.

26 Ibid., ff. 50r, 50v.

27 Ibid., f. 50v.

28 ‘[Q]uelle richesse & quelle magnificence dans l'infinie variété de scènes que produisent toutes les combinaisons du terrein, lorsque, divisé en montagnes, en vallées, en collines & en vallons mélangés avec les plaines, projetés en tout sens & placés à toute sorte de distances, il donne pour chaque station un nouveau site & de nouveaux tableaux! A l'aide des effets de la perspective, réunis aux illusions optiques, les objets aux moindres mouvemens du spectateur se montrent sous des formes & des rapports différens & souvent imprévus. Ils fuient & s'effacent; d'autres prennent leur place; sans cesse les situations varient; les scènes se succèdent à chaque pas; & ces transitions s'operent, tantôt par des passages simples & préparés, tantôt par des changemens brusques & inopinés.’ Morel, Jean-Marie, Théorie des jardins (Paris, 1776), p. 80. English translation by the author.

29 Whately, Thomas, Observations on Modern Gardening (London, 1770). Also see Kames, Lord [Henry Home], Introduction to the Art of Thinking (Edinburgh, 1761) and Chambers, William, A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (London, 1772), which was in Sandby's library. In France, Roger de Piles had introduced the term pittoresque in his Cours de peinture par principes (Paris, 1708). This book was also owned by Sandby. Claude-Henri Watelet wrote the first French treatise on the picturesque garden, Essai sur les jardins (Paris, 1774).

30 See, for example, Middleton, Robin, ‘Ideas on Movement in Architecture in Britain and France during the Eighteenth Century’, in The Living Tradition of Architecture, ed. de Paiva, José (Oxford and New York, 2017), pp. 119–45.

31 BL, Add MS 42232, f. 25v.

32 At Windsor, Sandby was involved in the estate management and produced designs for the landscape and engineering projects for the embellishment of the park. He was appointed steward of Windsor Great Park in 1764 and occupied the deputy ranger's lodge from around 1770.

33 BL, Add MS 42232, ff. 49r–49v.

34 Ibid., f. 39r.

35 Ibid., f. 48r.

36 Ibid., ff. 39v, 41v.

37 Ibid., f. 42v.

38 Ibid., f. 29v.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid., f. 33r.

42 Ibid.

43 On Le Camus de Mézières, see Robin Middleton's introduction to Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières, The Genius of Architecture, or The Analogy of That Art with Our Sensations, trans. Britt, David (Santa Monica, CA, 1992); and Pelletier, Louise, Architecture in Words: Theatre, Language and the Sensuous Space of Architecture (London, 2006).

44 ‘Chaque piece doit avoir son caractere particulier. L'analogie, le rapport des proportions decident nos sensations; une piece fait désirer l'autre, cette agitation occupe & tient en suspens les esprits, c'est un genre de jouissance qui satisfait.’ Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières, Le génie de l'architecture, ou L'analogie de cet art avec nos sensations (Paris, 1780), p. 45; English translation by Britt in Le Camus de Mézières, Genius of Architecture, p. 88. Le Camus read Watelet's Essai sur les jardins.

45 BL, Add MS 42232, f. 51v.

46 Ibid., ff. 51v–53r. He added: ‘But this I am informed, is not intended to be done, there having been too much Money already expended in what is finished’.

47 ‘I was greatly Mortified at our Disappointment, and would have staid till the next Morning, had our time permitted, as I wish'd much to see, what is generally allowed to be, Two of the finest Rooms in the Kingdom, and the Noble Collection of Pictures, this House has the reputation to Contain’ (ibid., f. 53r).

48 Ibid., f. 25r. Sandby stressed the necessary collaboration of setting and architecture in relation to Nottingham: ‘this Town, where Nature & Art has had an equal share in making it handsome’ (f. 25v).

49 Ibid., f. 34v.

50 Ibid., f. 39v. Sandby added that the building has ‘a very Rich and neat appearance’ because of the type of stone used.

51 Ibid., f. 51r.

52 Ibid., f. 55r.

53 Ibid., ff. 55r–55v. He continued: ‘What added much to our Satisfaction was to see it in such good repair[; apart from some alterations it] still appears nearly the same as it must have done when first finished, to the great Credit of its Noble Possessor’.

54 The annotated version in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France reveals the buyers of Sandby's drawings, among which were his brother Paul Sandby (1731–1809) and Hardwick (possibly the architect Thomas Hardwick, 1752–1829). The five-day sale took place on 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23 July. His Royal Academy lecture drawings were lots 113–39, in many cases a single lot consisting of several drawings.

55 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 1, f. 5, followed by: ‘Low and little buildings therefore, must always appear trifling and insignificant. Yet Taste and Genius may be exerted in the smallest Villa. Harmony and Proportion may be observed in the meanest Structure; but after all it is in the Temple and Palace alone that Architecture can exert her powers and display her true splendor & magnificence. This, amongst other reasons, will easily account for the slow progress of this noble Art.’

56 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 5, f. 1.

57 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 1, ff. 13, 14.

58 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, ff. 9, 10.

59 Ibid., f. 10.

60 Kames, Lord [Henry Home], Elements of Criticism (Edinburgh, 1762; 1785), II, p. 431.

61 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, f. 27. Kames, Elements of Criticism, III, p. 342: ‘Of all the emotions that can be raised by architecture, grandeur is that which has the greatest influence on the mind. It ought therefore to be the chief study of the artist, to raise this emotion in great buildings.’

62 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, ff. 7–8.

63 See Roberts, Jane, Views of Windsor: Watercolours by Thomas and Paul Sandby (London, 1995), cat. 18, pp. 68–69 for other versions.

64 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 2, f. 23.

65 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, f. 6, the lecture most indebted to Burke.

66 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 1, f. 39.

67 Ibid.

68 Soane owned the 1810 edition of Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Oeuvres complètes […] contenant […] sa traduction de Longin, 3 vols (Paris, 1810), two other editions of Boileau's Longinus in French, and an English translation, The Works of Monsieur Boileau (London, 1712): see Watkin, Soane, p. 190.

69 Eileen Harris, ‘Burke and Chambers on the Sublime and the Beautiful’, in Essays in the History of Architecture Presented to Rudolf Wittkower, ed. Douglas Fraser, Howard Hibbard and Milton J. Lewine (London, 1967), pp. 207–13. Chambers and Burke were not only friends, but were in close contact about their ideas: see Edward K.A. Wendt, ‘The Burkean Sublime in British Architecture’ (doctoral thesis, Columbia University, NY, 2002), pp. 53–60. Wendt's thesis shows how a preoccupation with the sublime at the Royal Academy infiltrated wider artistic and architectural circles in London, as happened also in Paris through the Académie d'Architecture.

70 William Chambers, notes for Royal Academy lectures, RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, CHA 1/8, ii. Later he expanded on this idea: ‘Nothing exalts more nor fills the mind with Sublimer Ideas than the sight of noble actions, valiant exploits or stupendous objects, and next to that nothing fires the imagination so much nor fills [it] with loftier images than bold and spirited descriptions of glorious achievements, prodigious events, extraordinary or wonderful productions of human skill or human power’ (CHA 2/3).

71 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, f. 9.

72 Caroline van Eck, ‘Architecture and the Spectator’, in Companion to Eighteenth-Century Architecture, ed. van Eck and de Jong, pp. 155–91.

73 Hussey, Christopher, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View, rev. edn (Hamden, CT, 1967), pp. 188, 189, 202. On Vanbrugh, see Hart, Vaughan, Sir John Vanbrugh: Storyteller in Stone (New Haven, CT, 2008).

74 Soane, Royal Academy Lecture V, in Watkin, Soane, p. 563.

75 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1–2, Lecture 4, f. 2.

76 This prospect was much admired by Gilpin: see Picturing Britain, cat. 88, pp. 208–09.

77 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, f. 3.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid., f. 4.

80 Ibid., ff. 6–7.

81 Herrmann, Paul and Thomas Sandby; Robertson, Bruce, The Art of Paul Sandby (New Haven, 1985); Lukacher, Brian, Style and Rendering in the Architectural Drawings of Thomas Sandby (Poughkeepsie, NY, 1990).

82 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, f. 1: ‘I shall first make a few remarks on the choice of situation before I speak of the precautions necessary to be observed in laying the Foundation of the superstructure; which I shall also endeavour to explain in its proper Place, and then proceed to the distribution of Plans, the application of Columns and Entablatures &c. which will compleat this Lecture.’

83 As translated in Robin Middleton's introduction to Le Roy, Julien-David, The Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece, trans. Britt, David (Los Angeles, CA, 2004), p. 106. Étienne La Font de Saint-Yenne, Le génie du Louvre aux Champs Élisées: dialogue entre le Louvre, la Ville de Paris, l'Ombre de Colbert, & Perrault (Paris, 1756), pp. 7374: ‘la variété infinie des positions où se trouve l’œil du spectateur, & qu'elles ne sçauroient prévoir. Il est encore une autre connoissance qui n'est pas moins nécessaire au grand Architecte, sur tout dans les façades extérieures, & qui sont si fort éclairées. C'est celle du clair obscur, & des effets pittoresques des lumieres dans les saillies des masses, & dans les renforcements. C'est elle qui donne le mouvement aux parties d'un grand édifice et fait jouir l’œil du spectateur d'une satisfaction qui le ravit sans en sçavoir la cause.’ See also de Jong, Sigrid, ‘En dialogue avec la ville: La Font de Saint-Yenne et l'expérience architecturale et urbaine de Paris’, in Publier sur l'art, l'architecture et la ville: La Font de Saint-Yenne et l'ambition d'une œuvre, ed. Ferran, Florence, Moulin, Fabrice and Pavy-Guilbert, Élise (Geneva, 2018).

84 Le Roy's essay appeared in the second edition of Les ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce (Paris, 1770). See the fourth chapter in my Rediscovering Architecture and ‘Experiencing Architectural Space’, in Companion to Eighteenth-Century Architecture, ed. van Eck and de Jong, pp. 192–230. Also Armstrong, Christopher Drew, Julien-David Le Roy and the Making of Architectural History (Abingdon, 2011).

85 Morel, Théorie des Jardins: ‘des tableaux que le spectateur peut varier à son gré’ (p. 117). On the picturesque and movement, see Macarthur, John, The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities (Abingdon, 2007); on the picturesque and theatricality, van Oostveldt, Bram, ‘Ut pictura hortus/ut theatrum hortus: Theatricality and French Picturesque Garden Theory (1771–95)’, in Theatricality in Early Modern Art and Architecture, ed. van Eck, Caroline and Bussels, Stijn (Chichester, 2011), pp. 164–77; Le Camus de Mézières, Le génie de l'architecture.

86 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, f. 26.

87 Ibid., f. 33.

88 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, f. 27.

89 Ibid.

90 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 5, f. 2.

91 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, f. 39.

92 I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer of Architectural History for pointing out to me the influence of Fréart and Wren. RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, f. 39.

93 Soo, Lydia M., Wren's ‘Tracts’ on Architecture and Other Writings (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 119–95.

94 Van Eck, ‘Architecture and the Spectator’, pp. 155–91, and see the first and second chapters of my Rediscovering Architecture.

95 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, ff. 16, 18. Vitruvius, liber 1, chapter 2, 5.

96 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 6, f. 27.

97 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, ff. 28–29.

98 Ibid., ff. 59–60.

99 Ibid.

100 Ibid.

101 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 1, f. 38.

102 Ibid. This was the original passage as it was copied by Soane (now in the Soane Museum, MS AL 31B). William Sandby's copy of 1849 reads: ‘This will lead them to make nice observations on the natural effect of light and shade produced by the sun's rays, and the various tints and demi-tints occasioned by different colours opposed to each other, and also make them masters of drawing from the productions of nature that fall occasionally in their way: for a readiness and facility in drawing by hand will correct that hardness which is generally too predominant in the works of those who never draw but by rules & compasses’ (RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/2, Lecture 1, f. 45).

103 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 1, f. 38.

104 Giles Worsley emphasised the novelty of Sandby's perspective views in Architectural Drawings of the Regency Period, 1790–1837: From the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (London, 1991), pp. 2324.

105 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 5, ff. 26–27.

106 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/2, Lecture 2, f. 388 (added later by Sandby to the paragraph on f. 61).

107 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 2, f. 40, ending the second lecture.

108 See Roberts, Jane, Views of Windsor: Watercolours by Thomas and Paul Sandby (London, 1995), cat. 43, pp. 126–27.

109 As analysed in the second chapter of my Rediscovering Architecture.

110 De Jong, ‘Experiencing Architectural Space’.

111 RIBA, Drawings and Archives Collection, SaT/1/1, Lecture 4, f. 24. Sandby also spoke of ‘unconfined’ motion.

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