New York - A talented architect/painter and a flight into the unreal

By Souren Melikian

A historian and a psychiatrist should team up to investigate the  circumstances that gave rise to the strain of folly that burst out on  the English art scene around 1800. A crazy trio then sprang up. .... Gandy's twin skills as an architectural draftsman and landscapist  induced John Soane, a wealthy young architect and collector of  antiquities, to hire him. Soon, the draftsman was busy translating into  delightful watercolors Soane's projects for country houses commissioned  by the great and the good. He thus drew a perspective of the yet-to-be  gate lodge at Tyringham, designed by Soane for a banker. Lit up by the  sun bursting through stormy clouds amid vegetation that bends in the  wind, Gandy's watercolor is a small gem of British art in the early 19th  century.

The draftsman only half-relished the triumphs scored by Soane thanks to  watercolors that he, Gandy, drew but did not sign. He left Soane's  employment, and life became difficult.

In 1801, the draftsman had married Eleanor Webb, who gave him nine  children. On two occasions, in 1816 and 1830, the hard-pressed Gandy was  jailed for outstanding debts. Soane frequently rescued him with 'loans'  that he was unable to pay. In 1830 and again in 1831, the draftsman was  reduced to soliciting from the council of senior academicians advance  payments from his pension fund - which were granted.

The great John Constable, who then sat on the council, confided to an  American friend, C.R. Leslie, his outrage at the treatment meted out to  Gandy by the Royal Academy in previous years. The master of English  landscape painting wrote: 'I declared before the Council that I was  shocked that such a man should never have been an Academician' (Gandy's  application had been rejected six times).

To Richard Westmacott, a sculptor who knew Gandy from their days at the  Royal Academy school, Constable said that he suspected Henry Thomson,  keeper of the academy, to be the cause of Gandy's troubles. Westmacott  concurred, adding that the artist's class inferiority complex compounded  by his refusal to rein in his imagination in his wilder designs were  unhelpful when he tried to obtain commissions.

One can only dream about what some streets of Georgian London might have  looked like had Gandy been successful - and had the rare buildings  erected to his designs escaped destruction.