|This piece accompanied the first exhibition of Monamy's paintings in 1983|
see end note
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, by Alison Booker
Monamy Exhibition, Pallant House, 25 June - 27 August 1983
Charles Harrison Wallace
Mr Michael Robinson, whose interest and concern for truth has motivated all research on Monamy since 1970, cautions awareness of the problems. Conjecture in these comments is therefore not offered in fear of contradiction, but in hopes of correction. In the opinion of at least one respected picture dealer, for instance, Monamy's signature has been added to works by other artists. Allowing for this, and the further credible possibility that pastiches are still being produced, an explanation of the oeuvre --- especially the earlier years --- remains difficult. A close study of about 400 paintings, prints, and the few indubitably authentic drawings, leaves a confusing sense of unevenness. Although the range, versatility and inventiveness is impressive, the drawing and perspective, the apparently untrained preparation of some of the canvases and the occasionally slapdash finish can be disturbing. The composition of some of the more mysterious pictures is strange or experimental, and a poster-like flatness is sometimes deprecated. More than one hand seems to be at work, and it is tempting to sort the pictures out into three or four distinct groups.
Perhaps the best approach to resolving these problems is to try to develop an understanding of the naval, political, social and economic realities of the period --- to an extent unnecessary for most other artists. Monamy's training was that of a City of London tradesman and craftsman, and his first aspirations would have been commercial rather than artistic. Kneller had shown how a "phizmonger" could amass a fortune by, as Hogarth describes, making of his vocation "a sort of manufactory". "If he is in vogue", says Hogarth of portrait-painters, "and can employ a journeyman, and place a layman in the garret of his manufactory, his fortune is made; and as his two coadjutors are kept in the background, his own fame is established". Four years after being made free of his master, Monamy (then 27) employed his own indentured apprentice, Henry Kirby, in 1708. His reputation established, he was certainly in vogue for many years. It is highly likely that at his peak, say 1722-1732, he was keeping two or three lads busy in his workshop, perhaps under fairly loose supervision. Even in decline he may have had at least one assistant. There are strong indications that Francis Swaine was with him at the end, and a lesser, but still very reasonable possibility that a very young Charles Brooking was absorbing his instruction in about 1738-1740.
Signed: C. Brooking pinxit aged 17 years [ie probably 1740]
A realistic conception of Monamy as a hard-working, money-conscious businessman during the years 1710-1730 also admits the possibility of straightforward sub-contracting. Painters who could have undertaken work commissioned via Monamy include Robert Woodcock and Thomas Baston, or even Samuel Scott before about 1726. Dutch names worth mentioning in the same context are van Haecken, and van der Hagen, more probably Johann than his presumed kinsman Willem. There are a number of breezy offshore scenes attributed to Johann van der Hagen which compare closely with others signed Monamy.
Until about 1730 a literary equivalent to the Monamy phenomenon is provided by the prodigiously industrious author of The True-Born Englishman, The King of Pirates and The Complete English Tradesman, Daniel Defoe. The self-sufficient mariner, Robinson Crusoe, has been cited by economists as an example of the prevailing ambience of resourceful independence, and the free-enterprise work ethic. Although Dutch, North German and even Scandinavian antecedents to Monamy's oeuvre are legion, it is somewhat misleading to describe him as following them. Rather, in a mood of piratical annexation, he appears to have retrieved whatever flotsam and jetsam came to hand, and adapted it to construct his own essentially English house-style. Primitive and naive in origin, even ramshackle at times, but serviceable, practical and extremely eclectic. Prints, drawings, maps, plans, diagrams and paintings by all and sundry were grist to his mill. The apparent scarcity of drawings by his own hand suggests that he often referred to prints, and drawings by other artists, but nevertheless very rarely made exact copies. The real base to his work is that uniquely English form of folk art, the painted street sign.
The Medway, below Rochester Castle. A very early Monamy? About 1707?
Far too many of Monamy's paintings seem far too naive for him ever to have been schooled by the superlative van de Veldes. Of all sources, their exclusive studio (after 30 years in England it seems the Younger could still hardly speak English) was perhaps the least susceptible to plunder, at least until after the Younger's death in 1707. Several of Monamy's "van de Veldes" consist of battle scenes depicting, in some cases, actions that took place before he was born; and these could also have been worked up from drawings and prints by Isaac Sailmaker or Wenzel Hollar. Not until about 1722-25, when the mezzotinter Elisha Kirkall (who pirated Hogarth's Harlot's Progress) issued a series of 16 prints, allegedly all after van de Velde, does Monamy seem to display a close interest in the Dutch master. At least three of this series recur in slightly altered versions attributed to Monamy (two signed). The 1731 legend Second only to van de Velde is not, of course, a judicious line of art criticism, but an advertising slogan. The word consistently used of Monamy is "famous", and the implication is one not of critical, but public and popular acclaim.
Latin verse by Dr.Halley. The engraving is ancestor to Blake's Ancient of Days
The Mathematic Art unfolds the Clouds,
Beyond their Portals changeless Order lies.
Man's Genius sublime has scaled the Steep,
And enters now the Lodge celestial.
Modern ecumenicism and global apprehension make it hard to credit the passionate intensity of nationalist fervour and competitive zeal which animated the London of the early 1700s. The presence of Sir Isaac Newton in the City, as Warden of the Mint from 1696, and increasing recognition of the achievements of his "amazing mind", were sufficient proof to some that God was an Englishman. Financial speculation and commercial competition were raw and frantic. "All professions berogue one another", was Hogarth's quotation from The Beggar's Opera. "If various dealers the same Goods exhibit/They wish each other dangling on a Gibbet".¹ By about 1718 Monamy appears to have outstripped the Vale brothers, compatriot Londoners who must have been early rivals. By about 1722 what remained of the van de Velde studio must have suffered its demise. Cornelis, son of the Younger Willem, is reported (by Horace Walpole) to have left for Holland. Monamy, too, was to sink in turn, although, luckier perhaps than many of the great 17th century painters to the bourgeoisie of Holland, he managed to bilk the bailiffs by dying.
The ills that assailed many 18th century English artists and writers were "Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron and the Jail", as Dr Johnson put it. Horace Walpole, for instance, described by the Reverend Dallaway as "this otherwise noble patron of the arts", had the death of Chatterton on his conscience. Monamy was one of the earliest native English artists, apart from one or two portrait painters, able to attain artistic prominence without obvious dependence on the favour and caprice of a wealthy patron. With Pope, he might justifiably claim, "I live and thrive/Indebted to no Prince or Peer alive". Monamy's customers, by and large, were rising middle-class men like himself.
Whatever the local ups and downs of the ordinary Londoner, he was braced by a rock-like certainty that he was, and intended to remain, a free man, whereas all foreigners were benighted slaves. The "haughty and insolent" Spaniards, the "vain-glorious" French, were no more than servile wretches, fawning or groaning in darkness under papal oppression and tyrannical monarchy. The "surly" Dutch fell into a second category of defeated trade rivals, and the "lawless" Algerines formed a third and lesser breed. The principal victims of the Spanish Inquisition had been the Jews, to whom the England of Cromwell and William III had offered recognition and refuge, a factor of incalculable benefit to British banking from then on. For the Huguenots, who swelled London's manufactories and filled thirteen of her churches, Macaulay's line Remember St Bartholomew was as apt in 1715 and 1745 as it had been in 1590, when 70,000 Protestants were massacred in Paris, or 1685, when the Edict of Nantes was revoked. As Defoe pointed out in 1701, the "true-born Englishman" was an alloy of many metals, pure only his resolution never to submit to "arbitrary" government. The posture finds its analogue in Stubley's and Hogarth's portraits, where Monamy appears, though sensitive, erect and stiff-necked to a fault.
A third-rate man of war, possibly the Monmouth, circa 1707-1710
Monamy's "forms and buildings of shipping with all the tackles ropes & sails &c which he thoroughly understood", though excellently accurate records of contemporaneous ship design, tend therefore to be bathed in a numinous glow of naval glory. The storms are dramatic and theatrical, and some of the calms and sunsets incorporate a dream-like vision of the golden prospects beckoning abroad. Although drama is often present in earlier marine art, the visionary glow is never quite as intense and explicit. The effect is achieved by a vivid, decorative, use of colour; a fractional dilation of flag and sail; and an often pyramidal or otherwise monumental underlying structure. Immediacy is conveyed by the robustness, and sometimes a lack of finish. "No man forgets his trade", intoned Dr Johnson. The apprentice sign-painter would have an ingrained belief that a painting should signify. Hogarth, whose every work is crammed with meaning, held still-life "in the lowest estimation", and likened ship-painting to it "for, if copied exactly as they chance to appear, the painters have no occasion for judgement". Monamy did exercise judgement in this sense, and does not necessarily set out to copy his subjects as they appeared. The message is unmistakable, but can be disconcerting to the marine art purist, whose ideal is often photographic accuracy.
In 1713 the Peace of Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession. Spain ceded Gibraltar, annexed by George Byng under Rooke's command in 1704. The peace was followed in 1714 by the surprisingly trouble-free accession of George I. Jacobite intrigue continued rife, but much of the cloak-and-dagger politics of the reign of Queen Anne seems to have been dispelled, and during these years Monamy started to "come into reputation". Byng, knighted for his part in the battle of Malaga soon after Gibraltar, overwhelmed the Spanish navy off Cape Passaro in 1718.
Sir George Byng, later Viscount Torrington
A second short war with Spain was concluded in 1720 with Britain in a bubbly mood of expansive self-confidence. The future for native artists looked bright, with Thornhill, as nationalistic as any, knighted for his work at Greenwich in the same year. At the same time, the initial impulse of the freemasonry which flourished in Monamy's Westminster of the 1720s was genuinely non-sectarian. Some of the harmonious calms, moonlight scenes and more experimental pictures of this period indicate a receptivity to wider influences, just as some of the storms suggest the movement's interest in natural philosophy as well as its implicit deism. By the time of the Stubley portrait Monamy is every inch the dignified pillar of the community, liveryman and master of his trade.
Middle-class views were expressed in a lively, vociferous periodical called The Craftsman. Daniel Defoe died in 1731, the year that saw the first issue of the Gentleman's Magazine. The signs were that with increasing middle-class prosperity the pirates were turning genteel. Captain Kidd (hanged 1701), who had buried his father's Presbyterian bible, but was perhaps as much sinned against as sinning, was supplanted as a maritime archetype by the benevolent and avuncular Captain Coram of the Foundling Hospital, magnificently portrayed by William Hogarth,
Between these two extremes came Captain Woodes Rogers, the poacher turned gamekeeper, who was also portrayed, with his family, by Hogarth in 1729, a decade before his Coram masterpiece. The joint work until recently attributed to Hogarth and Monamy, but now believed to be by Gawen Hamilton and Monamy, was produced at about the same time. In this painting, a key to the origins of English 18th and 19th century art, Monamy appears simultaneously unbending and over-eager, as though concerned that the self-important collector and connoisseur, Mr Walker, may not finally approve his work.
The young, elegant and socially mobile Samuel Scott was taken up by the Walpole family in the early 1730s, probably about 1733, when the Walpole-Scott Club was formed. He was assiduously patronised and promoted by Edward Walpole, his brother Sir Robert, who was England's first Prime Minister, and later Sir Robert's youngest son, Horace. Horace Walpole continued to sing Scott's praises for the next thirty years, and well after the painter's death in 1772.
A sense of exhaustion, brought on by increasing age and the stiffening competition is evident in some of Monamy's paintings at about this time, especially in one or two fairly nondescript canvases dated in the middle 1730s. Some of these are the kind of debased "van de Veldes" and tedious calms which are so regularly attributed to Monamy today. Horace Walpole was aware of Monamy's ability to depict storms, but his obdurate presentation of Scott as the "English Vandervelt", and insistence on "Samuel Scott, painter of sea-pieces", seems to have clouded his judgement, for Scott's natural talent was for pleasing, highly finished riverside scenes with plenty of architecture. These works are essentially static, and the principal difference between Monamy and Scott, as a marine painter, is that Monamy makes his ships move. Monamy also knew what the ropes and sails were for. Scott rather surprisingly almost abandoned marine painting after 1759, the "Year of Victories", which proved a turning-point for English 18th century domination of the seas. Shortly afterwards Francis Swaine, Monamy's posthumous son-in-law, made his breakthrough as a marine painter with a major canvas depicting the Monmouth's defeat of the Foudroyant, one of the most astonishing engagements in British naval history.
The Monmouth captures the Foudroyant 1758
Francis Swaine c.1759
The significant works of Monamy's last twenty years are best understood in conjunction with the verse of James Thomson, author of Newton (1727), Britannia (1729) and Liberty (1735-36). Reading Thomson's somewhat gaseous Miltonics today it is difficult to believe that he was England's by far most influential 18th century poet, read and translated throughout Europe. Also author of The Seasons, he is really now remembered, if at all, for Rule, Britannia!, composed in 1740. These verses have been described as a "political anthem", and were perhaps intended to counter the crypto-Jacobite God Save the King (or the Pretender). Liberty was published in five parts, but the later parts did not sell well. The poem extols the virtues of, among others, the "manly race", the Swedish champions of Protestantism under Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII, and contrasts the ancient glories of the senate and people of pre-Augustan Rome with her current imputed "slavery, vice and unambitious want". Dr Johnson, to whom patriotism was the refuge of scoundrels, and to whom the poem's Whig or republican leanings would have been anathema, did not condescend to read it.
Macheath the Highwayman, in The Beggar's Opera, painted by Hogarth, 1731
A caricature of Robert Walpole
The poem's poor sales among the cultured, complacent and genteel perhaps owes something to the pacific policies of Sir Robert Walpole, the professedly Whig Prime Minister, who was savaged by John Gay in The Beggar's Opera, 1728, and by Hogarth in his painting of a scene from the play. Elsewhere these policies were having exactly the opposite effect. They excited virulent resentment in the City and the Navy, who could not bear to see the glittering prospects of world trade and maritime supremacy slip away. In 1726 Admiral Hosier had been given the impossible task of blockading Porto Bello, to prevent the sailing of Spanish treasure ships from the Americas, without engaging in hostilities. The crews of his sixteen men-of-war caught yellow fever, of which he and 4,000 seamen died, and his dismal fate kept the bitterness simmering. Walpole had reacted to the Beggar's Opera by censoring its sequel, and was accused of trampling on cherished liberties, as well as every other sort of venality. "That able minister dreaded the consequences of a war to himself and his friends. He had other uses for the treasures which fleets and armies would consume." "Posterity ought to execrate the memory of that man, who, to gratify his thirst for power, made corruption constitutional in the nation". 18th century naval historians choke with indignation at the thought of "the pusillanimity of the British ministry at this period".
The bright lights and other delights of Vauxhall Gardens, opened with extensive decorations to general wonder in 1732, were not alone sufficient to satisfy the public craving for excitement. Monamy's painting of Captain Kempthorne's exploit in 1669 (to which Wenzel Hollar had been an eye-witness) would have been on display by the mid to late 1730s, when it would have reminded promenaders that seven lawless Algerines were no match for one rugged Englishman. Across the Atlantic, in the maw of the Spanish Main, the brutal Guarda-Costas were being not only haughty and insolent, but also proud, insulting and impertinent. They had, it was said, cut off Captain Jenkins' ear. In Vauxhall Gardens, William, the hardy tar, was singing his sweet farewell to black-eyed Susan. The Gloria Castle and Iron Fort of Porto Bello, below whose offshore waters rested the hallowed bones of Francis Drake, exerted a magnetic pull. Admiral Vernon announced that he could take Porto Bello with only six ships of war, and by July 20th, 1739, Walpole was obliged to let him have his way. The buccaneers had been subdued for a while, but now the ghost of Admiral Hosier was going to be avenged, in the dauntless spirit of Robert Blake.
In the opinion of one of the authors of Lives of the Admirals, Walpole "embraced (the) .... opportunity of removing a troublesome opponent in the House of Commons. Besides, it was generally imagined that he was not without hopes that the Admiral might disgrace himself and his party by not succeeding in this adventure". For almost eight months the ranks of the opposition to Walpole's regime hung breathless on the Admiral's fate. On the 12th March 1740 the report of Vernon's triumph rebounded from the Mexique Bay, and echoed in most corners of the British Isles. The public jubilation was indescribable, and even the "fury of party" was temporarily swamped by the intoxicated atmosphere of national elation. "I assure you, when we landed at Gloria Castle, our Heads were free from any thoughts of Speeches made within Doors or without. The Admiral acted only by the King's Authority; for Him and for our Country, we fought and conquer'd ... ENGLAND was the Word, and away ran the Spaniards". This account, penned by a suspiciously salty "Will Winlass", appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine on April 12th, 1740. "Britons strike home", urged the Reverend Theophilus Evans, from the safety of his vicarage in Brecon, at the end of a long letter proving the prior right of the British, and more especially the Welsh, to the entire continent of America.
Spanish Insolence Chastized. Engraving by Fred Shantoon, rushed out for publication on 3rd May 1740
The caption echoes Blake's dictum, 1654, that he would have the whole world know
"none but an Englishman should chastise an Englishman".
From 1740 until his death in 1749 Monamy's major works are devoted to individuals and causes with a particular claim upon his loyalty, in particular those involving the fortunes of his Channel Island connections. His extant paintings from this period include several versions each of the taking of Porto Bello, and the captures of the San Joseph and the Princesa. A map of Porto Bello by Lieutenant Philip Durell, a Jerseyman, had been sent back with the news of its surrender, and a major part in the capture of the Princesa had been played by Captain Thomas Durell. The tragic loss of the Victory off Alderney, in 1744, ended the life of Admiral Sir John Balchen, who had been Thomas Durell's commander in 1739. (The Victory was later reborn to become Nelson's flagship, and painted by Monamy's grandson, Monamy Swaine, in 1793.) The capture of Louisbourg in 1745 was the subject of an ardent report by Philip, Thomas Durell's nephew. In 1748 Monamy delivered to the Foundling Hospital the "large and beautiful sea piece of the English Fleet in the Downs", which has been missing since about 1909. His last painting is the capture of the Mars, taken by a Guernseyman, Philip Saumarez, another nephew of Thomas Durell.
The Capture of the Princesa 1740
These paintings are devoid of any detectable foreign influence. The great hulk of the Princesa was towed into Portsmouth, to the admiration of the crowd. Monamy's rendering of her dark silhouette, as plain and flat as his earliest works, constitutes a memorable and novel image quite unlike the representation of any previous sea battle, let alone the sophisticated works of the van de Veldes. It also conveys, in a powerful but understated manner, the reality of six hours' hard pounding in warm, calm waters. All art is some sense political, but it may be doubted whether any "stainer" --- the 17th century term --- as robustly populist and partisan as Monamy, in the last decade of his career, can win approval from the gurus of higher criticism. The deeply felt patriotism, expressionistic distortion, and sometimes wild conjunction of sea and sky, fire and water, are as characteristic of Monamy as they are of Turner. But in Turner they are acceptably mature, whereas in Monamy they can still be embarrassingly naive. English art in 1704, the year Monamy was freed from his apprenticeship, was in a primitive state. Tracing his development from 1704 to 1749, and judging his work in its true context, it is nevertheless not apparent that the "Pictor Londini" of George Vertue, and the "famous Marine Painter" of Antiquity Smith, exactly fits the category of minor petit-maître assigned to him by received opinion.
¹ If various Dealers the same Goods exhibit/They wish each other dangling from a Gibbet. Quoted by Walter Leon in Thomas Doggett Pictur'd, 1980, p.47; an excerpt from Chetwood's A General History of the Stage, 1749.
In 1981 the English Tourist Board announced that 1982 was to be Maritime England Year, with a target of 2000 events. The following item appeared in the October '81 issue of the Board's news sheet. Against expectations it produced a response from the curator of the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, Sussex, who had previously mounted an exhibition on Vauxhall Gardens at another gallery. It was too late to organise a Monamy exhibition for Maritime England Year, but the show was put on the following year.
The event was not the hoped-for "major exhibition", which would have been far too ambitious a project at this juncture. Richard Kingzett's Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Scott, published by the Walpole Society, Vol 48, 1980-82, notes that at the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Scott in 1951, "when the 52 pictures and drawings chosen for the exhibition were assembled in one gallery it became apparent that works by at least six different painters were on view." Monamy's paintings are probably even more difficult than Scott's to authenticate with certainty, and I am still not sure that not more than one artist's paintings were exhibited at what can only be regarded as a pioneering effort in 1983. Nevertheless, 24 paintings were shown, together with Monamy's two known etchings, and 54 prints were listed. The show was seen by 2,500 visitors. With hindsight, the exhibition was at best useful in providing an opportunity for a tentative first assessment of the range and variety of Monamy's output. The text of the above article has been revised and corrected, November 2001.
The curator of the Pallant House Gallery could not possibly have known what a strangely fitting venue this was. A great number of Monamy's descendants were associated with Chichester and the Pallants, residential streets which form a cross, with Pallant House at the intersection.. To quote his catalogue foreword: "It is not inappropriate that the first exhibition devoted to Monamy should take place in Chichester; Peter Monamy's grandson, Peter Monamy Durell Cornwall was vicar of St John's, Westbourne, near Havant, for twenty years; the Reverend George Cornwall was rector of Earnley-cum-Almodington; other descendants are recorded in the parish records as incumbents of churches in Midhurst and in Chichester itself. P.M.D.Cornwall's grand-daughter, a formidable lady who died in 1945, was married to Dr.Buckell, living first in North Pallant, Chichester, and later in West Pallant House."
Another Monamy descendant who grew up in Chichester was Canon V.L.Whitechurch, author of 24 books, mainly detective novels, many of which contain veiled references to life in the city, lightly disguised as "Frattenbury".
Pallant House was a familiar daily sight to him, and it features in Mixed Relations, a comic novel he published in 1928: "In vulgar parlance, however, there were certain well-known nicknames for certain houses. One, for instance, which had a bird of some impossible kind on each pillar flanking its entrance, was always known as 'The Dodo House'". p.74.
From Coke, Flower, Strong: Pallant House: its architecture, history and owners
monamy website index
January 2008: For a comprehensive update of Monamy genealogy, with many additional details, and differing in several ways from the above, see new page. Click.
© Charles Harrison Wallace 2001, 2003, 2007
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