part two: rise
In the course of combing London for handy counterfeiters Pierre Monamy came to mix with a number of individuals adept in the graphic arts. De la Marche mentions Davis, a limner; Scobell, a graver who had £100 off Monamy for engraving the King's signet; and Demeure, a scrivener who wrote out the actual passes. While consorting with these characters Pierre met up with a very young girl called Dorothy Gilbert. She was born in 1660, the third child of a couple called James and Ann Gilbert, and was to become the artist's mother. There is little evidence of any interest in the arts among members of the Monamy family before Peter's arrival, and it is tempting to conjecture that Peter inherited his gift from the Gilberts.
Pierre and Dorothy's first child was born in March 1677, when Dorothy was barely 17, and baptised Peter Gilbert Monamy at St Botolph's without Aldgate. It was traditional for a wife to have her first child at her parent's home; and since Pierre had no London roots he may well have moved in with his parents-in-law in the Minories. This first son must have died within four years of his birth. The couple's other children were Ann, born February 1678; James, born January 1680; and Peter, the artist, born January 1681. The naming pattern, repeating the names of the father and the mother's parents, is familiar practice of the time. They were all baptised in the same church. The register records another daughter born to Pierre, however, baptised in January 1679. This girl's mother's name is given as Elizabeth, and her child was named Charity. Unless there is a mistake in the register, it seems possible that she was born out of wedlock, and named accordingly. [Note: 2007. Since Dorothy had a sister named Charity, it now seems that the name "Elizabeth" is simply an inexplicable mistake in the register.]
Dec 2006: A mysterious discrepancy has come to light. In a work entitled The Environs of London, by Daniel Lysons, published 1795, there is a record of a "John Monamy, son of Peter Monamy, buried Mar 31, 1680", at Stoke Newington. A footnote to the name Peter Monamy comments: "A celebrated painter of sea-pieces", but the author has evidently confused the painter with his father, Pierre. The birth date of this John remains a mystery, since no record of his birth has been found. See here.
Fully to comprehend the nature of Peter's artistic prominence, at his prime in early Georgian London, I would contend that it is necessary to have in mind the ancestral background and cultural heritage outlined above. Its elements are identical with those that led to the establishment of British supremacy as a sea power, and to the foundation of the British Empire. They include the inheritance of a deep-rooted mercantile maritime tradition; the industry and ambition of the dispossessed Huguenot exiles, allied to the commercial drive of all those impoverished by the Civil War and its aftermath; strong anti-French, anti-Catholic, anti-Stuart feelings; and correspondingly powerful emotions of patriotic nationalism. Unlike many other artists, Monamy was peculiarly well-suited by birth and training to give artistic expression to these sentiments. He was, as Walpole later somewhat excessively claimed for Samuel Scott, "an artist born for an age of naval glory, and equal to it", at least in the eyes of his own contemporaries. Not all Scott's fine draughtsmanship, finish, outsize canvases and politico-social support would ever conceal from true sailors his innate dislike of the sea.
Mr Scott (F) and Mr Hogarth (D) take to the waves 1732
By the year Monamy celebrated his fiftieth birthday, 1731, he was without doubt considered his country's most representative native painter, especially when it is recognized that the City of London was a burgeoning magnet for a new, rising, and commercial class of citizen, "of the middling sort", and that he was active at its heart. Sir James Thornhill, Master of the Painter-Stainer's Company in 1720, had virtually retired by 1729 and was to die in 1734. His son-in-law, William Hogarth, was yet to achieve his first resounding success, in a totally different genre, with "A Harlot's Progress" in 1733. Monamy's pre-eminence, even greater than contemporary landscape and portrait painters, lasted perhaps only for about five years, from 1727 to 1732; but his standing as a marine artist was virtually unassailable for at least twenty, from 1720 to 1740. The younger Willem van de Velde, of the Dutch artistic family closely associated with the Stuart kings, died in 1707. The veteran Isaac Sailmaker, also of Dutch origin, who had painted Cromwell's fleet off Mardyke, died in 1721, aged 87. The Englishman Samuel Scott began to be noticed about 1736, but did not receive his formal commission to paint Lord Anson's naval triumphs until 1750, the year after Monamy's death.
In 1696, when Peter was 15, the Binding Book of the Painter-Stainer's Company contains the record: "Peter Monamy, son of Peter (Pierre) Monamy of London, Merchant, bound to William Clarke for seven years by indenture". Whatever the earlier illegality of the activities of Peter's father, Pierre, there is no particular reason to think of him as especially indigent by this time. The date of his death has not been established. [Note: 2008. It now appears likely that Pierre Monamy had in fact died between 1682 and 1686. The assumption must be that Peter's early years were spent in the care either of his mother's family, the Gilberts, or that of his uncle, Andrew.]
To bind one's son as an apprentice was not unknown among sections of the gentry, and even the aristocracy, of the 17th century, for work was regarded as of itself virtuous. The progress of the Industrious Apprentice to the office of Lord Mayor was to be depicted by Hogarth in a series of prints contrasting industry with idleness, and he might have taken Peter as an example of what came to be called the protestant work ethic.
At this time the status of the Painter-Stainer's Company was as high as it had ever been. In fact, it was aspiring to the kind of role later to be assumed by the painting academies, although it would be another 70 years before the foundation of the Royal Academy. During the reigns of William III, Anne and George I (1689-1727) the influx of continental artists, so encouraged by the Stuarts, began to abate. (There was to be a second wave during the 1740s, to Hogarth's rage and exasperation). At the same time, as noted by Eveline Cruikshanks in Hogarth's England, the power and dignity of the Corporation of London began to approach its zenith, and in the government of the City the Livery Companies played a crucial part. The apprenticeship system had been devised with educational intent to develop and encourage native skills and talents, and a good master was expected to take a paternal interest in his apprentices. Hogarth, as Cruikshanks remarks, took the Huguenot weavers of Spitalfields, adjacent to the Minories, as his model of the "highly intelligent and skilled craftsmen" who personified the best elements of the system.
Old London Bridge seen from St Olave's Church, South Bank, after a print by Boydell, dated 1751
William Clarke, who had been an apprentice himself in 1671, and is probably the same William Clarke who was Master of the Painter-Stainer's in 1687, would surely have been of this type. In 1696, when Peter came under his guidance, he was aged about 40 and had two establishments: one on London Bridge and another nearby in Thames Street. Since the Painter-Stainer's had received a new Charter in 1686, just before he became Master, he must have been one of the leaders of its resurgence. Monamy would certainly have received an excellent grounding in the mysteries, as the Company would have called them, of decorative painting. These would have embraced elaborate interior decoration on walls and ceilings, such as Thornhill executed at Greenwich; paintings on canvas often inset in wall-panelling or mirrors; painting on the wood panels of coaches, and, no doubt, gilding and decorating the carvings on the ships of the time, as well as sign-painting. In The Art of Hogarth, Professor Paulson remarks that "simple traditional English directness was the quality Hogarth sought, and the signboard was the most indigenous manifestation of art available".
Apprentices had to train for seven years under the master responsible for them, and they were not free to marry until they had completed their term. Peter was made free on March 1st, 1704, on the same day as James Thornhill, later the first native English artist to be knighted. Shortly afterwards, it is presumed, he married a girl called Margaret, although no record has been found of this marriage. [See note here]. However, a daughter was certainly born to Peter Monamy, Painter, and Margaret in 1706, and christened Margaret at St Olave's Church in Bermondsey. The mother, and perhaps also the child, must have died, for on 9th January 1707 Peter married his second wife, Hannah Christopher, at Allhallows, London Wall. Hannah had been baptised in 1688 at St Dunstan's, Stepney, the daughter of Daniel and Anne Christopher, and was thus aged 19 when she married Peter, who was then 26. No more records have been discovered of Peter's brother James or sister Charity, but his other sister Ann married a John Randel at Allhallows in 1701.
The best account of Monamy's life and work can be found in the contemporary manuscript notes of an engraver called George Vertue. His notebooks are preserved in the British Library, and Walpole used them as the basis for his published work. Vertue's notes and anecdotes are unpartisan and unbiassed, but Walpole's selective and condescending treatment of the manuscript information set the supercilious tone of English art criticism and connoisseurship for well beyond the following century. Unfortunately, Vertue was also mistaken about Monamy's place of birth, and his supposition that the artist had been born in Jersey was repeated by Walpole and everybody else who followed him. An erratum slip, itself incorrect, with the instruction "for Jersey read Guernsey", was inserted into some editions of M.Pilkington's Gentleman's and Connoisseur's Dictionary of Painters, 1805, but it has been consistently overlooked by professional art historians.
Vertue speaks of Monamy's "early affection to drawing of ships and vessels of all kinds". In his inconsequential manner he goes on to say "by constant practice he distinguisht himself and came into reputation --- besides his industry and understanding in the forms & buildings of shipping with all the tackles, ropes & sails &c which he thoroughly understood made his paintings of greater value besides his neatness and clean pencilling of sky and water by many was much esteemd especially sea faring people & others marchants &c".
These seafarers were, in the main, Channel Islanders. In particular, they were the progeny of a remarkable couple, Jean Durell and Anne Dumaresq, of Jersey. Jean Durell died in 1722, aged 80, having been Constable of St Helier, Jurat and Lieutenant-Bailiff of Jersey. He married Anne about 1673, and they had nine children. Three sons, Philippe (1676-1740), Nicolas (1684-?), and Thomas (1685-1741), all became Captains in the Royal Navy. A daughter, Anne, married Matthew de Sausmarez of Guernsey, and their son Philip Saumarez (1710-1747), his name slightly anglicized, was the first of four brothers to enter the Navy in the footsteps of their uncles Durell. From 1726 onwards, for over 200 years, there was always at least one officer on the Navy list named Saumarez. The Durells of Jersey produced seven Captains, a Lieutenant and a Vice-Admiral of their name during the 18th century alone. [See here for the close family links between Durell and de Sausmarez.]
Later family traditions were emphatic in their association of the name of their ancestor, Peter Monamy, with that of Philip Durell. There is, however, repeated confusion in all available records of Captain Philippe Durell (1676-1740 ?) with his nephew, Vice-Admiral Philip Durell (1707-1760), and I have not yet been able to fully disentangle this muddle. Several descendants of Peter Monamy have been named Philip Durell. It seems more likely that these perpetuate the memory of the Vice-Admiral, and that there may even be an obscure or mysteriously veiled claim to kinship.
As Peter distinguished himself and came into artistic reputation the Durells would have been among his friends, supporters, collaborators and patrons. They served under George Byng, Viscount Torrington; Sir John Norris; Admiral Vernon, who captured Porto Bello; and the actions of all three of these notable officers were represented on canvas by Monamy. Later, members of the next generation of Durells served under Lord Hawke. Philip Saumarez served first under Torrington's son, John Byng; and was Lord Anson's First Lieutenant on his momentous voyage round the world, 1740-1744. These descendants of Jean Durell and Anne Dumaresq were uniformly notable for the highest qualities of courage, leadership and seamanship, and the careers of many of them were ended by death at sea in action.
The early post-apprentice years of Peter Monamy are undocumented, apart from the records of his marriage and the births of his children. Initially I assumed that he would have worked as a journeyman painter for established masters, but on considered reflection this seems less and less likely, and I believe now that he would have set up in independent practice almost as soon as being made free. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to suppose, given his training, that he was in some way connected with the activities of Thornhill, who in 1708 began his vast work on the interior decoration of what is now the magnificent Painted Hall in Greenwich, the setting for countless celebratory naval occasions.
1708 was the year after the death of the younger Willem van de Velde (1633-1707), whose studio had dominated marine painting in England for the previous decades. Ellis Waterhouse remarks that "there seems to have been a current of nationalist feeling which Thornhill fanned and profited by. In this, as in other things, Hogarth followed in his father-in-law's footsteps". Monamy and Thornhill were fellow freemen of the Painter-Stainer's, and Hogarth has left us incontrovertible evidence of his recognition and esteem of Monamy. Hogarth is stated in his young days to have lived in a house on the East side of London Bridge, adjoining the Southwark Gateway. Monamy, also resident on London Bridge in early years, cannot have failed to have spent many hours, days and years in the nautical environment of Greenwich.
The representative of the marine painting genre who had the strongest influence on Monamy's early years was in my opinion not van de Velde, as is monotonously repeated, but Isaac Sailmaker. Sailmaker's association with Cromwell and the great Protestant mercantile powers of the north (in the course of researching the life of Sailmaker, I stumbled upon astonishing evidence, presented on another page, that he may have spent some time in Stockholm) would have been more congenial to Monamy than the van de Velde's patronage by the Stuarts, who had compounded his grandfather's ruin. Sailmaker spent a great deal of his time by the Thames waterside, and at other ports and naval centres. His career went into decline with the arrival of the van de Veldes, brought over from Holland by Charles II in about 1673, but seems to have enjoyed a reflorescence following the hasty departure of James II, and the revolution of 1688, variously described as "The Quiet", "The Bloodless", or "The Glorious". There are many early works by Monamy which relate much more closely to those by the durable Dutchman than to those of the van de Veldes. Two other marine painters who may have been similarly influenced, or who found their inspiration in local tradition rather than from imported expertise, signed their pictures H.Vale and R.Vale. These are probably by the brothers Humphrey and Robert Vale, baptised at St Mary's, Whitechapel, in 1690 and 1692. They and Monamy may conceivably have formed a sort of loose school under Sailmaker. However, the recorded output of the Vales is not extensive, and with the death of Sailmaker in 1721, Monamy was established as the unrivalled master of the marine genre in London. The support of his naval and city connections would have been no disadvantage to him.
During his early years, Monamy and his wife Hannah would have moved lodging more than once. Their first child, Andrew, was baptised in 1708 at St Botolph's. Their daughter, Hannah, was baptised in 1709 at St Mary's, Whitechapel, Stepney, and is recorded as born in Red Lion Street. This suggests that Monamy was not yet living on London Bridge at this time, as Red Lion Street seems to have been one of the lanes off the Minories.Their next son, also Andrew, was baptised in 1712 at the same church. Monamy would probably have moved to the bridge by this year, if we can assume that he lived over his shop. All three children must have died very young; the infant mortality in early 18th century London was appalling.
There have been no records discovered of any more children born to Peter and Hannah between the years 1712 and 1725. This leaves open to question the age, and perhaps even the identity of Mary Monamy, who married Francis Swaine in 1749. It is inconceivable that Mary was not daughter to Peter Monamy, and extremely unlikely that she was born after 1723, when Peter was certainly living in Westminster. It seems most probable that she was born in the gap between the baptism of the second Andrew, 1712, and Peter and Hannah's last child, Ann, baptised in St Margaret's Church, Westminster, 1725; but it is not completely impossible that Mary is in fact identical with Margaret, the child born to Peter's first wife Margaret, before his marriage to Hannah in 1707. It is not unknown for children to be later called by a name other than that given them at birth, and the name Mary might have helped to erase the memory of Peter's first wife, for whatever reason. In the absence of firm data the scope for conjecture is wide: Margaret and Peter may not even have been married, since no marriage record has been found. If Mary was born in 1707 she would have been 47 in 1754, when she had her last child with Francis Swaine, Monamy Swaine.
Whatever the details of Peter's domestic life, his reputation as an artist would have been soaring by about 1720. His position and stature as the foremost artistic exponent of the spirit of the nation, commerce and the navy, and the party of the Whigs, would have been boosted by the knighthood conferred on James Thornhill in 1719, and the final departure for Holland of Cornelius van de Velde, son of the younger Willem, during the 1720s. It is very likely, in my view, that Monamy acquired whatever remained of the van de Velde studio in these years.
In 1723 the City of Westminster rate book records the residence of a 'Peter Moneyman' in St Margaret's Lane. There has never been anyone called 'Moneyman' at any time, the length and breadth of the British Isles, let alone 'Peter Moneyman'.
The spelling must be attributed to a deaf or dyslexic clerk, or perhaps it is a sly comment on the painter's undoubted prosperity and success during these ten or twelve years. 'Peter Monyman' is recorded again in 1725, and 'Peter Moneyman' in 1728, when his address is precisely given as Fish Yard, St Margaret's Lane. The 'lane', which still runs into Old Palace Yard, where King Henry VII's chapel abuts Westminster Abbey, soon afterwards evidently became a 'street'.
Engraved on brass in St Margaret's,
Kingdom or Commonwealth were less to thee
Than to crown England Queen o'er every sea.
Strong sailor, sleeping sound, as sleep the just,
Rest here. Our Abbey keeps no worthier dust.¹
St Margaret's is the parish church of the House of Commons. During the Commonwealth the leading Parliamentarians were buried in Westminster Abbey. At the Restoration of Charles II the bodies of 23 of them were taken out and flung into a pit in St Margaret's churchyard. Among these were Cromwell's mother and daughter, and the revered hero and architect of Britain's 17th century naval ascendancy over Spain, Robert Blake. Fish Yard, which vanished when the present Houses of Parliament were built, was right within the precincts of the old Westminster Hall, almost precisely on the spot where the statue of Oliver Cromwell now stands, in commemoration of English constitutional government and parliamentary democracy.
Vertue says that Peter "livd some years latter part of his life at Westminster near the River side, for the Conveniency in some measure of viewing the Water & Sky". As Monamy in fact lived in Westminster for at least 26 years this note suggests that Vertue did not know him very well, as is also indicated by his mistake about the painter's place of birth. Apart from his contacts with a small circle of close associates, the indications are that Monamy was not a sociable person. He may well have been self-willed, taciturn, difficult and irascible: many of his descendants were, and so are many artists. The evidence of his industry indicates that he did not spend much time on good-fellowship. Fish Yard would be oddly described as "near the riverside", although only a few steps away from the Thames. Water and sky could be observed easily enough. His move to Westminster must have been motivated less for the reasons proposed by Vertue than from a need to stress his identification with England's resurgence, and to remain in close touch with his Channel Island associates. Five members of the politically active Durell family of Jersey were living in Westminster from 1713 to 1746, and one of them, Captain Thomas Durell, was married to an Anne Bulkeley, from another well-known family with strong maritime interests, also among Monamy's patrons.
Monamy's paintings, in situ since their creation, are to be found in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the West Country, as well as in London. "He made many excursions towards the Coasts and seaports of England to improve himself from Nature & those observations for his further improvement", says Vertue. This remark was omitted by Walpole, who only noted "the shallow waves that rolled under his window", and it flatly contradicts the mindless mantra that "his knowledge of the sea was much less than his knowledge of ships". His work actually comprises an enormous variety of gales, storms, and shipwrecks, representing every imaginable sea condition. But paintings of storms and choppy seas make the land-lubber feel sick, and can have an upsetting effect on the dining-room guests of the elegant hostess. Calm waters find a readier market. Vertue mentions his "Imitations of other famous masters of paintings in this manner ---- Van de Velds &c", and it does seem as if commercial pressures in the relatively peaceful years of his middle period, from about 1720 to 1735, led him to produce a great number of calms in the typical Dutch style, some of which inevitably betray a sense of tedium. In 1726 he became a Liveryman of the Painter-Stainer's Company, and the occasion was marked by acceptance of a "valuable sea peice (sic) of his own painting", which discharged him "of paying his livery fine and all fees relating thereto". This very large work still hangs in Painter-Stainer's Hall. It is related to a painting by the younger van de Velde, but conceived not as an exact representation, and certainly not as a slavish copy, but rather as a decorative wall-painting generating an atmosphere appropriate to its setting.
By the age of fifty Monamy's reputation had reached its zenith, and "to remember his fame", says Vertue, "his picture was painted & done in mezzotint print". This portrait was a personal revelation to me when I first saw it in 1979, in a private house in Jersey. It finally dawned on me that the confused, contradictory, patently inaccurate and often slighting comments I had read, in a large variety of reference books and critical accounts purporting to authority, could not be made to square with the presence of the painter himself. The portrait was painted by Thomas Stubley, obviously a native master of his trade, and the special care he had given to this performance is equally evident. The work can reasonably be dated to 1730 or 1731.
The mezzotint print, dated 1731, was done by John Faber junior, the most prolific and prominent mezzotinter of his day. Inscribed beneath the print is the legend Petrus Monamy/Navium et Prospectum marionorum Pictor:/Vandeveldo Soli Secundus. In his transcription of these words into his notebook Vertue interestingly adds the word Londini after Pictor. The claim "second only to van de Velde", which is realistic and not immodest, has tended to reinforce the suggestion that he was an imitator of van de Velde rather than an eminent marine painter in his own right. In my view the phrase was inserted almost as advertising copy, with particular reference to the competitive challenge being mounted by Samuel Scott, who produced a not dissimilar mezzotint. Scott was taken up and assiduously promoted and supported by the Walpole family at about this time, and had praise lavished on him by Horace Walpole for the rest of his life. It is noteworthy that Walpole relegates Monamy, whose achievements he could not wholly ignore, to Painters in the Reign of George I, 1714-1727, in spite of the fact that Monamy did not die until 1749. The conversation piece of Monamy showing a seascape to Mr Walker, a picture collector, produced at about the same time as the Stubley portrait, which is discussed on another page (here), was eventually given to Walpole by a print collector called Richard Bull. Although, since about 1983, this picture has been attributed to Gawen Hamilton, Walpole attributed it to Hogarth, and hung it on the staircase of his house, Strawberry Hill; the sort of position, he says in a different context "where one would be sorry to place the works of a better master". Walpole's waspish summary of the arts under George I, in his Anecdotes of Painting, reveals his sublime contempt for the struggles of many indigenous British painters.
go to part three
¹ These lines were penned by Sir Lewis Morris, 1833-1907. Except in Wales, he is only remembered now for having said to Oscar Wilde: "There is a conspiracy of silence against me, Oscar. What should I do?" To which the wit replied, "Join it." Back.
article 1981: part 1 article 1981: part 3
background westminster & london topographies, etc monamy website index
January 2008: For a comprehensive update of Monamy genealogy, with many additional details, and differing in several ways from earlier accounts, see new page. Click.
© Charles Harrison Wallace 2001
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