A little later on Sandys took up his abode in Kensington, and became associated with that wonderful circle which included Swinburne and George Meredith, Tennyson and the Brownings, Burne-Jones, Madox Brown, William Morris, and others. It was from that time that his illustrative Work commenced, as previous to then in book illustration he had only executed some pictures for the Birds of Norfolk and the Antiquities of Norwich.
There are many works by him which were never exhibited at the Royal Academy, but that must be mentioned. In 1862 he painted three notable oil pictures, Fair Rosamond, A Vestal Offering Her Hair on a Rose-Crowned Altar, and Mary Magdalene. In 1868 his wonderful crayon drawing called Proud Maisie appeared, perhaps the most vivid and dramatic work he ever executed, while in the same year he produced several symbolic figures, notable amongst which were Lethe, Proserpine, Fate, Penelope, and Miranda. Amongst his crayon portraits should also be mentioned Bishop Denison, of Salisbury, the Misses Clabburn, Lady Buxton, 1875; Lady Lawrence, Mrs. Samuel Hoare and her children, 1884; Mrs. George Meredith and Miss Meredith, Mrs. Cyril Flower (now Lady Battersea), and Miss Clara Flower, 1872; Miss Christabel Gillilan, 1887; Mrs. H. P. Sturgis, 1894; Mrs. Palmer, 1896; St. George, 1880, and others. About the year 1880 Sandys received a commission from Messrs. Macmillan & Co. to execute a series of crayon portraits of well-known literary persons, and he devoted many years to this work. The series, which remains in the possession of Messrs. Macmillan, includes portraits of Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, John Morley, J. H. Shorthouse, Lord Tennyson, Dean Church, Dr. Westcott, J. R. Green, Lord Wolseley, and Mrs. Oliphant, while in 1891 he produced a delightful portrait of the children of Mr. Alexander Macmillan, and in the following year, portraits of the same persons, two girls, entitled A Christmas Carol.
Rossetti pronounced Sandys to be the greatest of living draughtsmen, and his exquisite skill in drawing is well represented in the wonderful picture of Proud Maisie, now belonging to Dr. Todhunter, and in the studies of foliage, tree-trunks, branches and figures in which the artist delighted. He was never a member of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, nor in fact was he associated with any society of artists at all. He lived in constant revolt against the Academy and all its works, and was in frequent conflict with every other artistic society, pursuing a resolute and lifelong independence of all schools, teachers and societies, and a warfare more or less with most artists. The methods and ideals, however, of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were his, and his picture of Autumn, exhibited in 1862, is a wonderful example of the work of this school of artists, carried out to a logical issue, and with marvelous perfection. It is probable, however, that the reputation of Sandys will rest mainly upon his portraits of Mrs. Anderson Rose, 1863, Mrs. Jane Lewis, 1864; and Medea, 1869. These are luminous and forcible works, brilliant in colouring, full of detail, and exquisitely finished. They partake strongly of a sympathy with early Flemish work, especially being reminiscent of such masters as Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, and Memling. From these men he learned “that real regard for truthful expression in subject and detail which the pre-Raphaelites found blended with more spiritual qualities in fourteenth-century Florentine art.”
- Image source: National Gallery of Canada.