Road, now 14 Hyde Park Place, where he lived till his death.
Though never a rich man, he attained by his talents, his industry, his genial manners, and lively conversation an honourable position in his profession and in society. He was a favourite of George III and Queen Charlotte. The young princes, the queen herself, Viscount Newnham (afterwards Lord Harcourt), Sir J. F. Leicester (afterwards Lord de Tabley), and the Princess Dashkoff were among his pupils. He was often employed to draw the country seats of the nobility and gentry, with whom he became on intimate terms, and many of his pupils at Woolwich remained his friends in after life. He gathered round him a circle of intellectual and attached friends, comprising the most distinguished artists and amateurs of the day. ‘His house,’ says Gandon, ‘became quite the centre of attraction, particularly during the spring and summer months, when on each Sunday, after divine service, his friends assembled, and formed a conversazione on the arts, the sciences, and the general literature of the day.’ He was kindly and generous to his professional brethren. He bought Richard Wilson's pictures when he was in distress, and he was a valuable friend to Beechey, and helped to bring David Allan, William Pars, and C. L. Clerisseau into notice by engraving their drawings.
As an artist Sandby was indefatigable; he travelled over a great part of Great Britain, sketching castles, cathedrals, and other ancient buildings of interest, and its finest scenery in days when travelling was laborious and accommodation uncertain. He visited Ireland also. He was the pioneer of topographical art in England, and all the ‘draughtsmen’ of the next generation, including Girtin and Turner, followed his footsteps. He was before them on the Clyde and in the Highlands, in Yorkshire and Shropshire, in Warwick, and in Wales. By his drawings and his engravings from them he did more than any man had done before to inform his countrymen of the beauty of their native land. This is specially true with regard to Wales, which was then almost a terra incognita. It was not till 1773 that he exhibited a drawing from the principality, but after this it was his favourite sketching ground, and he published four sets (of twelve plates each) after his Welsh drawings. The first of these (published 1 Sept. 1775) introduced to the public his new process of engraving, which he named ‘aquatinta.’ It was an improvement by himself of a process employed by Jean Baptiste Le Prince, a French painter and engraver, the secret of which had been purchased from Le Prince by the Hon. Charles Greville, and communicated to Sandby. The process was admirably adapted to imitate the effect of a drawing in sepia or indian ink, and the prints when tinted by hand very nearly resembled such watercolour drawings as were then produced. For a time it was very popular. Sandby himself published more than a hundred aquatints which are similar in size to the drawings of Turner's ‘Liber Studiorum,’ the first of which was executed in aquatint. A list of his principal plates in this method will be found in William Sandby's ‘Thomas and Paul Sandby’ (pp. 146–8).
In 1797 Sandby vacated his appointment as drawing-master at the Royal Military College at Woolwich. He received a pension of 50l. a year, and was succeeded in the post by his second son, Thomas Paul, who married his first cousin Harriott, the daughter of Thomas Sandby. This was the only one of his three children who survived him. His eldest son, Paul, was in the army, and died in 1793; his only daughter Nancy died young. He himself died at his house in Paddington on 7 Nov. 1809, and was buried in the burial-ground of St. George's, Hanover Square, where his tomb is still preserved.
Sandby has been called ‘the father of water-colour art. Certainly, as contemporary with Taverner, an amateur, and Lambert, and as preceding Hearne, Rooker, Malton, Byrne, and Webber by more than twenty years, he may claim that title by priority’ (Redgrave, Century of Painters). He may claim it also in virtue of the extent of his influence. Before his time watercolour was used only to tint monochrome drawings. The colours employed were few and poor, and had to be manufactured by the artists themselves. Sandby was constantly making experiments in pigments and manipulation, and greatly improved the technique of the art. He showed the capacity of watercolour to render effects of light and air which had scarcely been attempted in the medium before, and he treated his subjects with an artistic feeling unknown to the ‘draughtsman’ of his day. He also painted landscape (generally ‘classical’ compositions) in tempera and oils. His works show much personal observation of nature, especially in trees and skies. He also drew portraits on a small scale in chalk and watercolour, which have often the grace and simplicity of Gainsborough. A large number of such portraits and sketches of figures are contained in a folio volume in the royal library at Windsor. Among them are portraits of