A CONFERENCE PAPER
Early C18th Marine Painting
and the emergence of the English School
Part Four: Monamy's Legacy
The subtitle of this presentation is inadequate: and it might well be better and more accurately worded "the suppression of the English School". A submerged link between the early years of the C18th and the eruption of English expressionism headed by Turner at its close is supplied by Francis Swaine, who was Monamy's son-in-law. The painting below was produced by Swaine ten years after Monamy's death.
Capture of the Foudroyant 1758: Francis Swaine (1719? - 1782)
Swaine's marine paintings owe virtually nothing to van de Velde, and everything to Monamy. The disposition of the ships in the memorable naval encounter above, the perspective, the moonlight ambience, the drama, and the expression of a profoundly romantic and emotional celebration of an heroic naval triumph over death, and against overwhelming odds, are all presaged in the paintings of Monamy. These elements feature not at all in van de Velde.
Dramatic storms and tempests are also strongly characteristic of Monamy's oeuvre. The above painting, in my view exceptionally fine, anticipates Vernet by approximately two decades.
Left: Monamy. Right: Turner, Fishermen at Sea 1796
Turner's 1796 painting was "acclaimed by a contemporary critic as the work of an original mind". In my opinion Monamy's picture displays comparable originality. It was produced 70 years earlier than Turner's canvas.
This moonlight scene, and the two sunsets below, are prefigured in the Hamilton (formerly Hogarth) conversation piece. They are representative of the best and most typical of very many similar paintings by Monamy.
Quote: "Instead of merely recording factually what he saw, Turner (!!!) translated scenes
into a light-filled expression of his own romantic feelings".
The above canvas is the largest and most fully realised of several of a similar design. It draws on long precedent in Dutch and North European painting, which continued, particularly in Scandinavia, until the mid-C19th. The sailor's permanent closeness to death, in battle or by drowning or hanging, separates him from the experience of the landman, and the implications of this painting are deistic, if not overtly religious.
Monamy. Inset, detail from a watercolour by Turner
Top: Turner, Peace, Burial at Sea, 1842. Below: Monamy, circa 1720 ?
The relationship between these two paintings; the upper perhaps one of Turner's most familiar images; the lower, merely one of a great number of similarly themed and totally unnoticed canvases by Monamy; is in my opinion undeniable. Others may not agree.
Monamy's range is extraordinarily wide, and it would be wrong to categorize him as simply an illustrator. Nevertheless he was a Painter-Stainer (like Thornhill) and his work is grounded in indigenous English sign-painting. Its prime function is communication, and the visual expression of a mental concept, moral, religious, mystical or political. The same might be said of the work of Hogarth and Blake, since English culture is fundamentally literary. The canvas below is an example from Monamy which anticipates European poster art by about 200 years.
Monamy, The Blockade of Dunkirk, 1708. Painted c 1725.
This painting represents the menace of the return of Jacobite and Stuart rule from the continent, and the defiance of this ever-present threat by the Dover patrol of England's frail but noble wooden walls. Substitute the devilish fork of this pair of tongs with a swastika, and Byng's gallant men of war with a few Hurricanes and Spitfires, and we could be looking at a war poster from 1940. Monamy is a modern painter.
Monamy did not die in the abject poverty reported in some accounts, but, in the words of George Vertue, he was "decayed and infirm" and in "indifferent circumstances" when he died in 1749. The memory of his achievement was almost completely erased by Sir Robert Walpole's son, Horace, Lord Orford.
So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lieth.
Sir Walter Raleigh: last words.
part one: painter and patron
part two: sea trade & sea power
part three: virtuosi & walpole
part four: monamy's legacy
Some events cast longer historical shadows than others
monamy website index
© Charles Harrison Wallace 2004, 2015
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