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.