Harmonising Landscapes: Tristram's highlights

Tristram Aver, Exhibitions Curator for Nottingham Museums, shares some of his favourite pieces from the new Harmonising Landscapes: Paul Sandby RA exhibition at Newstead Abbey.

A new exhibition at Newstead Abbey has now launched the start of an exciting 4=four-year programme of Arts Council-funded temporary exhibitions staged exclusively in, and uniquely for, our Nottingham Museums heritage locations.

Contributing to the Royal Academy’s 250th anniversary celebrations, Harmonising Landscapes: Paul Sandby RA displays a collection of 39 watercolours, prints and drawings from our collections.

Presenting in the beautiful interiors of the King Charles II Bedroom and Dressing Room, this exhibition highlights the exquisite detail and draughtsmanship of this Nottinghamshire artist who co-founded the Royal Academy in 1768, showing his focus of the British landscape by depicting ruinous and stately home scenes of the late 1700s.

Here are three of my personal highlights from the exhibition:

Tea at Englefield Green

This is a busy scene, with many of generations of the Sandby family enjoying a beautiful afternoon in the garden, while their servants happily tend to their needs.

Upon closer inspection, Paul has included a rare self-portrait as a figure under the shade of a tree on a garden seat sketching or painting.

This painting is a quintessential Jane Austen and Byronic-era scene of gentry in their modest estates, surrounded by well-tending gardens, parklands and the people who were employed by such families.

Tea at Englefield Green

Felling Trees

Felling Trees

It's no secret that I have a personal love for trees and parkland, and our heritage sites are wonderful examples of green havens within the hustle and bustle of city living.

Paul Sandby was a considered a ‘master’ of painting trees, not only because of his skill, but because he made his work accessible to much larger audiences through print (as this exhibition also shows).

Felling Trees shows a slightly different take of the traditional woodland scene, as he shows workers dismantling a tree, battling to removes its roots, with an ox and cart to remove the aftermath.

Trees provided shelter, food, fuel, and, as possibly referenced by the ship in the distance with a white sail, materials to build fleets for exporting goods or provide naval protection.

I like the fact that Sandby links an everyday labour scene to larger national endeavors, with a focus on the people and their role within the landscape, rather than just showing figures frolicking along for decorative purposes.

The Porter's Lodge to Nottingham Castle

Another biased (and topical) subject is this atmospheric watercolour of the Castle’s gatehouse – semi-recognisable and semi-ruined – painted before 1878 when the Museum first opened its doors and even before the arson of 1831 (as Sandby died in 1809).

This reminds me of a previous point in time where the Castle was primed for change, a perfect symbol of the transitions it has experienced throughout the building’s history and its exciting new future that awaits us today.

The Porter's Lodge to Nottingham Castle

Newstead Abbey is now open every day until 2 September, and, as kids go free this summer, it’s a perfect time to take the family for an enjoyable day out in the House as well as a picnic in the Gardens... with lots of trees to shade you from the sun!

For visitor information and entry charges, including details of our associated curator talks programme, visit Newstead’s exhibition pages.