Artist Paul Sandby Munn contributed works of vivacity and light to the growing field of watercolour landscape painting. Munn’s works offer an interesting insight into one of the many minds who were innovating watercolour painting at a time when its status was in flux.
Munn’s artistic interest was cultivated from a young age. His father, James Munn, was a carriage decorator and landscape painter who occasionally exhibited with the Society of Painters in Water-Colours and the Society of Artists. Perhaps this is where he befriended the watercolour artist Paul Sandby RA (1731-1809). Known as the ‘father of modern landscape painting in watercolours,’ Sandby would become both Munn’s godfather and his first art tutor.
There was perhaps no better mentor. Sandby was a leader in the development of watercolour painting from a belittled medium only used to tint drawings to a unique medium through which to produce landscapes of interest and emotion. He would pave the way for artists such as his godson, and encourage the further innovations of other artists, such as J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851).
The influence of Sandby is evident in a number of Munn’s works. The careful rendering of light as it passes over the varying aspects of different landscapes is a sophisticated skill, well executed by Munn. It casts dimension on the varying moods of nature, from towering cliffs with cracked facades to hills rolling rotund. A detailed hand takes care to add definition to the rustling leaves on trees or to the warping of waves as they roll into shore. It presents a view of the countryside gloriously rendered.
Munn’s most successful paintings, arguably, come from his trips across Britain with friend and fellow artist John Sell Cotman (1782-1842). The two painters took their tools and trekked across Wales and Yorkshire on various trips, experimenting with their craft and producing fascinating works. These are of a looser brush, more spontaneous, reacting to nature in the moment. Through carefully applied, effusive colours, Munn is able to celebrate nature’s transcendence, studying the changing colours of the leaves, the washes of the sky and the light upon the ground. From coast to coast, corner to corner of England and Wales, Munn creates works full of nature’s energy and his own artistic spirit.
Munn certainly seems to have been very close to Cotman. The two were part of ‘The Sketching Society,’ with Cotman taking over leadership in the early 19th century and Munn contributing as secretary. They also lived together in London for a while with Munn’s brothers William and James. It was from this address that the three brothers sold Munn’s watercolours as part of their stationery and print business.
Munn’s work could also be bought as part of the collection of John Britton’s ‘Beauties of England and Wales’ (1801-1815). Printed in many editions, this collection was intended to document various scenes of beauty and interest. It is perhaps an indicator of the rising prominence of watercolour painting that artists such as Munn, Turner, and John Varley (1778-1842) were chosen as contributors.
The reproductions of their works are some of the earliest forms of lithographs. It was also whilst in London that Munn became involved with the Society of Painters in Water-Colour. He became an associate member in 1806 and exhibited within them that same year. He was also, during this time, a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy.
During the 1810s, however, Munn turned his attention away from exhibiting. He moved to Hastings, settling down as a drawing teacher and focussing on his other passion, music.
Trips to Switzerland and France later in life seem to have reinvigorated his interest in watercolour painting. The works produced show Munn had lost none of his touch, and could still transform nature’s many moods into works of glorious light and colour.
Today, his works can be found in many institutions across Britain, including the Courtauld Gallery in London and the Brampton Museum in Newcastle. It seems fitting that they should be spread across the country’s lengths and breadths, just as Munn himself travelled far to create his works of wonder.
Born in Greenwich, Britain.
Exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Embarked on a sketching tour with John Sell Cotman to Wales.
Embarked on a sketching tour with John Sell Cotman to Yorkshire.
Elected an associate member of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours.
Exhibited with the Society of Painters in Water-Colours.
Married Cecilia Essex.
Moved to Hastings, Britain.
Travelled to Switzerland.
Travelled to France.
Died in Margate, Britain.