Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sandby: Portrait of the Whatman Factory in Kent

A View of Vintners at Boxley, Kent with Mr Whatman's Turkey Paper Mills 1794
Paul Sandby
673 x 1016mm; bodycolour and watercolour

Yale Centre for British Art
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This appears to be an oil painting of a great view. Look more closely and you begin to see motifs associated with Kent - the hop poles and the white horse which are emblematic of Kent.

There appears to be a mansion in parkland but closer examination - and a nudge from the curators of Paul Sandby RA: Picturing Britain, A Bicentenary Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art reveals the building to be the Whatman's famous papermaking mill in Kent. At which point I also learned that it is actually a watercolour painting on Whatman's famous watercolour paper! (This is my review of the exhibition Review: Paul Sandby - Picturing Britain Exhibition at the RA)

Paul Sandby exhibited A View of Vinters at Boxley, Kent, with Mr. Whatman’s Turkey Paper Mills at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1794. James Whatman (1703-1759) and his son (also called James Whatman d. 1798 age 57) were the most famous English papermakers of the eighteenth century and Turkey Mill was the largest paper mill in the country in 1760. The painting portrays the landscape around and about the factory in all its different aspects.

This is what the Yale Centre for British art has to say about this painting which can be seen above and in the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts which opens on 13th March
In 1794 the papermaker James Whatman the Younger commissioned Paul Sandby, Royal Academician and one of Britain's foremost watercolor painters, to record Whatman's home and his celebrated papermill in Kent. Sandby painted his portrait of the house and mill in opaque watercolors, or gouache, on a large sheet of "Whatman" paper. This watercolor, which remained in the Whatman family until its purchase by the Yale Center for British Art in 2002, is both a superb example of Sandby's art and an important document of the rise of industry in the British countryside and of the intertwined developments of papermaking and watercolor painting.
Yale Centre for British Art -
Mr. Whatman's Mill: Papermaking and the Art of Watercolor in Eighteenth-Century Britain
I'm currently involved in that well know art detection game of working out the location of the artist when they developed the drawing from which to paint the picture! So far I've got as far as locating the current complex and Google Maps of the same - just east of Maidstone and south of the A20. This is Turkey Mill ME14 5PP

Detail of the picture of the Turkey Mill

Working from the fact that the place names Boxley and Vintners are north of the A20 and the factory complex was south of the A20, I think the coach in the middle ground of the picture is actually travelling along the Ashford Road (A20) and the hop poles are associated with the Vinters land which lies near the A20. Since the road is nearer than the factory that would logically mean that the white house on the hill in the background is Mote Park and that the foreground is the estate of Vintners. Other documents I've found suggest that Turkey Court - the original home of the Whatmans - was on the same site as the Turkey Mill.

I've come across this webpage about the history of the Turkey Mill. This indicates that James Whatman sold the Turkey mill in 1794. Perhaps the painting was done as a mark of the ownership of the mill by the Whatmans at the time it left the family? 1790 James Whatman II suffered a stroke and his protégé, William Balston, took over managing much of the mill. But in 1794 and much to the surprise of everyone including Balston, James Whatman decided to sell the business and Turkey Mill was sold to brothers Thomas, Robert and Finch Hollingworth of Maidstone for £32,000, a substantial sum at the time.
It also says that
James Whatman II died, aged 57, at his new home ‘Vinters’ (a substantial property on the other side of Ashford Road to Turkey Mill and now demolished which he had acquired in 1783).
The mill eventually ceased production as a paper mill in 1976 and was sold in 1977.

All this just from a landscape painting!

More information:
Turkey Mill is located 1.5 miles from Junction 7 of the M20 and is a 10 minute walk from the centre of Maidstone via the Len Valley footpath. Vehicular access into the estate is from the A20. Turkey Mill is adjacent to and connected by footpath to Mote Park. Maidstone East Station is on the London (Victoria) to Ashford line and is either a 20 minute walk or a 5 minute drive from Turkey Mill.

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