This set of eight folio plates was executed by Thomas Sandby and his brother Paul with the assistance of several noted English engravers. Considered to be the finest set of topographical country house views after Rigaud’s 1739 “Views of Stowe” (a set of which is in the CCA Collection – DR1982:0096:001-016), the engravings most likely record work done in Windsor Great Park for the Duke of Cumberland, Ranger of the Park from 1746 to 1765.
Thomas Sandby (1721–1798) was an architect who served as draftsman to the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. With his younger brother Paul, a landscape painter and watercolourist, they were founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768.
Through these engravings the Duke of Cumberland sought to commemorate his alteration of the park, which had served English royalty since the eleventh century as a hunting and jousting ground and, beginning in the eighteenth century, as a place of formal gardens and walks. (The Duke is pictured in several of the engravings, arriving by carriage, directing workers by a bridge, and discoursing with the King by the river.) The improvements to Windsor Great Park recorded in these engravings include a dam built in 1749, forming an artificial lake, rockwork, a cascade, and a grotto. In 1752, a fifty-ton ship’s hull was raised from the Thames and fitted up on the artificial lake as a “Mandarin Yacht” or Chinese Junk. A triangular Gothic belvedere was erected on Shrubs Hill to the south, and a large wooden footbridge was constructed over the water. Renovations were also undertaken at the so-called Great Lodge, which became the Duke’s residence at Windsor. In short, these improvements partook of the fashionable taste for picturesque “Gothick” – that was most noticeably championed by Horace Walpole’s contemporary Strawberry Hill villa.
Much of these improvements, which were actually the work of architect Henry Flitcroft, were destroyed by severe floods, which broke the dam at Virginia Water in 1768 and again in 1782. These views therefore provide evidence for the state of the park at that date.
Original sketches and preparatory drawings by Paul and Thomas Sandby related to these engravings survive in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Museum. The engravings were republished in 1772 but the original issue of 1754/55 is rare, with other known copies only at Windsor Castle, the British Museum, and the Yale Center for British Art. The CCA’s copy seems to be unique among these in that it is bound and interleaved with contemporary blue rag paper.