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Paul Sandby, 1731–1809

The Meteor of August 18, 1783, as seen from the East Angle of the North Terrace, Windsor Castle

Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor on medium, moderately textured, cream laid apper
Sheet: 12 1/2 x 19 inches (31.8 x 48.3 cm)

Inscribed in graphite, verso, upper center: "East end of With the meteor"; in graphite, upper right: "with two sketches of the meteor"

Signed in pen and brown ink, lower left: "Pl. Sandby."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
angle | astronomy | bench | comets | east | genre subject | landscape | north | science | terrace | trees | walls
Associated Places:
Berkshire | England | Europe | United Kingdom | Windsor | Windsor and Maidenhead | Windsor Castle
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IIIF Manifest:

Meteors and comets were the subjects of universal fascination in the eighteenth century. The traditional emblematic associations (comets were believe to portend the death of rulers or dramatic changes in the status quo) retained their currency in the popular imagination but were underpinned by greater knowledge of celestial phenomena, which was facilitated by increasingly sophisticated instruments, such as the telescope.
This watercolor is related to the extensive series of views of Windsor Castle and Great Park produced by Paul and Thomas Sandby (see cats. 134-5), and the circumstances of its production and circulation provide an illuminating example of how artists recorded and disseminated scientific knowledge in the period. The drawing commemorates one of the most celebrated astronomical events of the century, the transit of a meteor on the evening of August 18, 1783. The natural philosopher-physician Tiberius Cavallo published his recollections of the episode in Philosophical Transactions in the following year:
Being upon the Castle Terrace at Windsor, in company with my friends Dr. James Lind [the physician to the Royal household], Dr. Lockman, Mr. T. Sandby and a few other persons, we observed a very extraordinary meteor in the sky…Mr. Sandby's watch was seventeen minutes past nine nearest; it did not make seconds.
The artist represented the progress of the meteor, somewhat surreally, by showing it three times within a single image, and his haunting depiction powerfully conveys the intense brightness it generated. (Cavallo observed that the meteor "lit up every object on the face of the country.")
The Sandbys made several drawings of the meteor (cat. 56 is attributed to Paul) and published an aquantint of the subject in October 1783 with a dedication to the celebrated natural historian Sir. Joseph Banks, with whom Paul Sandby had toured Wakes in 1773. the drawings and print were considered invaluable documentary records of this significant event.

Gillian Forrester

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 74 cat. no. 56

Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment (Harvard Art Museums, 2022-09-15 - 2023-01-16) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Edouard Kopp, Dare to know : prints and drawings in the age of Enlightenment, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, 2022, p. 311, NC87 .D37 2022 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Roberta J.M. Olson, Fire in the sky, Comets and meteors, the decisive centuries, in British art and science , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, pp. 69-75, fig. 38, pl. III, N6766 O45 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jane Roberts, Views of Windsor : Watercolours by Thomas and Paul Sandby from the collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Royal Collection Publications, London, 1995, pp. 68-9, fig. 18.3, NJ18 .Sa56 R65 1995 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 74, no. 56, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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