Georgian sand painting (Marmotinto)
In the 18th and 19th c. when the House of Hanover ruled in England, “table decking” was introduced to the court at Windsor Castle by sand artists from Germany. The most accomplished were George Haas, Benjamin Zobel and F. Schweikhardt. They created fixed sand paintings (marmotinto in Italian) which were highly prized for acquisition by many of the English aristocracy, including the King’s brother, the Duke of York, who commissioned a number of works by Zobel.
Zobel depicted “pigs in the manner of Morland”; “Nelson”, the favourite dog of the Duke of York; “Tiger after George Stubbs”, and an impressive “Vulture and snake.” Although many of Zobel’s works have survived, none of those by Haas has. Observers considered his work superior to that of Zobel. This may reflect the differing techniques used by each artist. A diarist observed Zobel’s coating the surface of the baseboard with a mixture of gum arabic and white lead and sprinkling sand upon the sticky surface using a folded paper funnel as a brush. He had to work quickly since the adhesive would dry in a few hours. Several of his surviving pictures have unfinished work on the reverse.
Haas followed more closely the techniques developed in Japan, but mixing dry powdered gum arabic with the sand, sprinkling the mixture through a sieve and using feathers as brushes to create the pictures upon the baseboard, then fixing them by some method which he kept a secret. Unfortunately, due to the damp conditions in many of the stately homes of the day, his pictures failed to last more than a few years. On one occasion Haas was called away while working on an unfixed sand picture. When he returned he found one of Windsor Castles’ cats curled up on the picture, damaging it.
Eventually Zobel returned to Memmingen in Bavaria where he continued to successfully pursue his craft. Some of his work is displayed in Memmingen Town Hall. The unfortunate Haas had to give up sand painting – probably due to the ongoing disasters with his pictures. He opened a bakers shop in Windsor instead, though the icing on his cakes may well have been decorated with pictures in coloured sugar instead of sand.
With the passing of these Georgian craftsmen and the disposal of the Duke of York’s collection the interest and skills evolved in sand picture work declined. The only Royal personage to take further interest in the craft was the late Queen Mary, consort to George V who bequeathed her Georgian sand paintings to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and her collection of Isle of Wight sand pictures to Carisbrooke Castle Museum on the Isle of Wight.
In the first half of the 20th century Lt.-Colonel Rybot was a keen collector of sand paintings, which were the source material of the articles written on the subject in the arts and crafts magazines of the day. Eventually 37 of his collection of sand paintings were the main feature at an auction held at Sotheby’s New Bond Street gallery on June 15, 1956.