Paul Sandby RA (1730/31 - 1809)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

A Founder Member of the Royal Academy, Paul Sandby is remembered as ‘the father of English watercolour’ and also pioneered the new printing technique of aquatint.

Sandby was born in Nottingham in 1731, and is thought to have learnt his early skills as a draughtsman from his brother Thomas, who became a prominent architect. This equipped him to work as draughtsman to the military survey of the Scottish highlands set up in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. Over a five year period Sandby made many landscape watercolours in Scotland, before moving to London.

He continued to paint landscapes in gouache and watercolour, while also demonstrating a skill for satire in the set of etchings he made satirising William Hogarth (1753–4). Sandby also worked as a drawing master, instructing several of his patrons and holding the post of chief drawing master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich for many years. In this way, he influenced subsequent developments of the British watercolour school through his teaching as well as through exhibiting his works.

Sandby helped to further popularise watercolour through the printing technique of aquatint, which he named and promoted. Aquatint involves creating areas of tonal shading rather than line (as in an etching or engraving), and so is particularly effective for reproducing watercolours. Making over a hundred prints in the medium, Sandby also continued to make engravings.

Sandby exhibited at the Society of Artists until 1768, when he defected to become a Founder Member of the new Royal Academy. He showed almost annually at the institution from its first exhibition in 1769 until his death in 1809. In his difficult final years Sandby was granted an annual pension by the Academy to support him and his family.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project - Extended Biography

Sandby was a subscriber to the second edition of Ottobah Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery (1791), an anti-slavery tract (see Notes, 1).

Sandby’s elder son, Paul, was an officer in the British army and died in Barbados in 1793.

Notes 1. Cugoano, Ottobah. Thoughts and sentiments on the evil or slavery; Or, the nature of servitude as admitted by the law of God, compared to the modern slavery of the Africans in the West-Indies; in an answer to the advocates for slavery and oppression. Addressed to the sons of Africa, by a native (London, 1791); (accessed 1 March 2022).

Relevant ODNB entries

Herrmann, Luke. “Sandby, Paul (bap. 1731, d. 1809), painter and engraver.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 1 Mar. 2022.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 1730/31 in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England, United Kingdom

Died: 8 November 1809

Nationality: British

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting, Watercolour, Printmaking, Engraving, and Aquatint engraving

Works by Paul Sandby in the RA Collection

8 results

Works after Paul Sandby in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Paul Sandby in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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