Grainy images revealed to be rare originals

22nd June 2022

Charles Wallrock with one of the Benjamin Zobel sand paintings he identified

Antique dealer Charles Wallrock holding a Zobel sand painting that he identified – it depicts Richard the Lionheart in action against Saladin at the Battle of Acre.

An antique dealer who bought two nicotine-covered artworks has had them cleaned and now they can be revealed as original ‘sand paintings’ by Benjamin Zobel.

Charles Wallrock had suspected they were by the artist whose works are displayed around the world including at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Zobel created his paintings using coloured sand and the two ‘extraordinary’ examples now on sale are his copies of originals by Philip James de Loutherbourg.

One is a scene from the Battle of Hastings with William the Conqueror raising his sword, and the second is of Richard the Lionheart in combat against Saladin.

Zobel, who lived between 1762 and 1830, was a German-British artist who painstakingly glued coloured grains of sand to wood or plasterboard.

On first glance they appear to be ordinary paintings but only on close inspection can the unusual medium be identified.

Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques in Lymington, Hants, said: “These are world class; they are really exceptional examples of Zobel’s unusual work.

“Sand painting – or marmotinto – was hugely popular in his time and Zobel gained his skills from his early career as a pastry chef.

“He was born in Germany and followed his father into the family pastry business but later moved to London and found work as a ‘table decker’ at Windsor Castle.

“Table decking involved decorating the table cloth with designs of sand, marble dust, powdered glass or breadcrumbs.

“Zobel also decorated with coloured sugar the huge tarts and puddings served at banquets held by George III.

“On the suggestion of the monarch, he began to create permanent designs and pictures using coloured sand.

“The ancient Japanese skill of bonkei or ‘tray picture’ was known about, but Zobel invented the sand painting technique.

“His ability to portray texture, colour and depth of field is quite extraordinary. When I saw these for sale I suspected they might be his work.

“They are fairly big paintings and there must be millions of grains of sand all arranged with unbelievable precision. 

“He must have had the patience of Job as well as the skill of a master.

“On having them cleaned from all the nicotine there could be no doubt they were by Zobel and they will be displayed at the Masterpiece Fair in London where I expect they will turn heads.

“We have many outstanding items relating to royalty and these sand paintings really do add colour and great drama.

“There are collectors of Zobel’s work who these will appeal to.”

The pair are on sale for £22,500.

Ed Baker – Deep South Media

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