Edward Dayes added an often dramatic sense of scale to the elegance and simplicity that he learned from Paul and Thomas Sandby. His topographical mastery became well known through the many engravings that were made from his watercolours. Edward Dayes was born in Gray’s Inn Passage, off Red Lion Square, London, on 6 August 1763, one of the six children of Samuel Dayes, a turner, and his wife, Mary. In about 1771, he moved with his family to the poorer area of Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, and his father died at Saffron Hill Workhouse in 1774. He studied printmaking under the mezzotinter and miniaturist, William Pether, and, from 1780, at the Royal Academy Schools.
Dayes married Sarah Parker at St Mary’s Lambeth on 11 November 1786, and lived first at 75 Long Acre, and later at other addresses in Covent Garden. They had at least one child, George, who was born in 1790, and would become a scene painter.
Dayes exhibited 64 works at the Royal Academy of Arts (from 1786), and others at the Society of Artists (1790-91), in a style developed from that of Paul and Thomas Sandby. In turn, he had a great influence on the younger generation, particularly as a teacher of watercolour.
For instance, the young J M W Turner made meticulous copies of his works at Dr Monro’s Academy while, from 1789, Thomas Girtin was a direct pupil. Dayes could be a less than generous mentor, being so envious of Girtin’s success that it was long believed that he had him imprisoned for unruliness. Nevertheless, he rose to the position of draughtsman to the Duke of York (in about 1791).
In the late 1780s, Dayes recorded the expansion of the capital in four watercolours of new squares, including Hanover Square, which were engraved by Francis Jukes and Robert Pollard. Not only did they pre-empt the similar achievement of Thomas Malton, but also demonstrated Dayes’ skill as a draughtsman of figures.
From the early 1790s, Dayes travelled widely in Britain, notably in Northern England and Wales. Responding to the landscape with bold, atmospheric watercolours of picturesque motifs, he also found employment as a topographical illustrator and in working up sketches made by amateurs. One project indicates the way in which he even interpreted terrains that were distant and unknown to him: David Collins’ Account of the Colony in New South Wales (1798) contains engravings by Dayes after watercolours that Thomas Watling had made in Australia.
In the late 1790s, Dayes changed direction by embarking on a series of large biblical and classical subjects, some in oil, but this venture met with little success, a solo show in 1801 going unnoticed. This failure led him to commit suicide at his home at 5 Francis Street, Bedford Square, London, in late May 1804. His wife had exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy between 1797 and 1800.
Volumes of his writings were published posthumously in 1805, including the textbook, Drawing and Colouring Landscape, and the malicious commentary, Professional Sketches of Modern Artists.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum, The Courtauld Gallery, Tate and the V&A; The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), Leeds City Art Gallery and The Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester); The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth); and the National Library of Australia (Canberra).
Further reading: David Blayney Brown, ‘Edward Dayes: Historical Draughtsman’, Old Water-Colour Society’s Club, vol 62, 1991, pages 9-21; Patrick Conner, ‘Dayes, Edward (b London, 6 Aug 1763; d London, May 1804)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 8, page 584; J Dayes, ‘Edward Dayes’, Old Water-Colour Society’s Club, vol 39, 1964, pp 45-55; Tim Marshall, ‘Edward Dayes. His ancestors, family and descendants’, British Art Journal, Winter 2007/8, pages 31-38; Greg Smith, ‘Dayes, Edward (1763-1704)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 15, pages 609-610