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Among the treasures of the Museum of London’s drawings collection are an important set of watercolour designs by Paul Sandby for his ‘Cries of London’ series. Sandby's influence on the London artistic world led him to be known as the 'Father of English Watercolour'.
Paul Sandby was baptised at St Peter’s Church in Nottingham in 1731. His earliest known work is as a topographical draughtsman, working alongside his older brother Thomas (c.1723–98). The two brothers came to London in 1742 and Paul was engaged as military draughtsman to the Ordnance office in the Tower of London, a post he retained until the end of his life, although without activity after 1746. He was appointed draughtsman to the military survey in Scotland in September 1747, and as drawing maps he made watercolours of Scottish landscapes and figures.
He returned to London in 1752 where he often worked collaboratively with his brother Thomas. In 1760 he published his ‘Twelve London Cries’ etchings, examples of which are in the Museum of London collection along with original drawings for the series, including designs that were never published. In the same year he began exhibition landscapes in oils at the Society of Artists. He became a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768, where he exhibited annually until his death.
As few of his oil paintings survive he is better known today as a watercolourist and is often credited as the ‘Father of English Watercolour’. His influence was disseminated through his teaching and his pioneering use of aquatint, a printing technique that he named and popularised. Among the aquatints in the Museum of London collection there are a series depicting the military encampments that were established in St James’s Park, Hyde Park and the gardens of Montagu House in response to the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1780. Sandby also made drawings for copper engravings, which were published in magazines. The Museum holds various topographical prints by Sandby as well as some original watercolours by or attributed to him.