à bout de souffle
STOP PRESS !! 16th June 2014 !! SEE HERE !!
This work is up for sale again: it merits renewed examination in the face of the mindless repetition of error.
Wouldn't it be marvellous if hack scribblers on marine art actually looked at the paintings they comment on ?
A View of Tilbury Fort in the County of Essex
A View of Gravesend, in the County of Kent.
46 x 66. Signed Brooking. NMM BHC 1836
The above scene is plainly located on the Thames, between Gravesend and Tilbury, but is of interest for other reasons. To the left are details from a painting signed Brooking, now in the NMM. The museum notes that until 1989 this picture "was mistakenly identified as showing Harwich"; see Joel, p 151. The notes add that "Tilbury Fort is in the centre distance with Gravesend to the left." The viewpoint is actually very similar to that of Monamy's canvas, although from much farther down-river.
Other comments by the NMM almost seem deliberately calculated to puzzle. For instance: "Most of the artist's extant paintings date to the last six years of his career." Why should that be the case? Brooking's dates are 1723-1759; several prints after him obviously follow works painted well before 1753. His works "are principally marine subject-matter." Is there a single painting by Brooking which does not involve marine subject-matter? This picture is: "Mid - Late 18th century". Since he died in 1759, how late during the century could it have been painted? In my view this picture could easily have been painted circa 1750, and was strongly influenced, not by van de Velde, but by the earlier painting signed Monamy.
The Monamy painting, which needs a new title: let us say "The Royal Yacht Peregrine, between Gravesend and Tilbury", displays a range of characteristics which show just how different his work is from the offerings of the van de Veldes. Wouldn't it be marvellous if hack scribblers on marine art actually looked at paintings, instead of mindlessly repeating the opinons of earlier commentators, themselves dull, uninformed or prejudiced. Wouldn't that get us somewhere? Presumably not. The stakes are far too small for anyone to be interested in accuracy, and all that remains is academic acrimony.
Press on, nevertheless. Why is this picture unlike anything by the van de Veldes? 1. It has a far brighter and more colourful palette, deriving in part no doubt from Monamy's training as an apprentice Painter-Stainer. Even Archibald noticed this, and remarks on it somewhere. 2. Like many of Monamy's most striking paintings, it is structured with a sense of deep perspective. 3. This makes it dynamic, kinetic, even kinematic: ie vigorous and lively, in a manner far exceeding anything by, for instance. Scott, whose works are essentially static. 4. It is passionately patriotic, something which is not at all characteristic of the works of the van de Veldes. Monamy's paintings are about more than the ships, it has been noted. They are expressionistic, like the works of Turner; and decades ahead of their time. They also look forward to the poster art of the 20th century.
Nonetheless, although there are many aspects which convince that this picture can be confidently attributed to Monamy, regardless of presence or absence of signature, there is also something unusual about it. It is uncommonly "correct", and also exceptionally highly finished, to a degree one would not otherwise associate with Monamy. Let's launch a reckless hypothesis here, one which is bound to be ridiculed and reviled, if considered at all. Monamy ran a studio. After about 1742, until his death in 1749, his business and his health were in ever steeper decline, and he was increasingly dependent on whatever assistants and employees, full-time or part-time, might be available. One of these was quite certainly Francis Swaine. Another, despite objections, was most probably Charles Brooking. Monamy would map out the composition of a painting, by this time and in this case taking account of the expanding market for "perspective viewing". The composition would then be developed and finished, with care, by the appropriate assistant --- in this case, Charles Brooking. See how the treatment of the water of the river Thames retains its typical Monamy ripples. Rivalry between Brooking and Swaine may not unreasonably be suspected. In 1749 Swaine secures the studio remnants, along with Mary, and Brooking sets off on his own, resolute to "match" and outdo his former employer. His painting BHC 1836, is one result; another is the Foundling Hospital contribution. What does "match" imply, if not compete with and defeat? Compare the Monamy and Brooking skies.
Just for a giggle, to the right is a South-East View of Upnor-Castle, in Kent, dated 1753. Below is a later view, of Upnor Castle, nr Chatham, drawn by Thomas Mann Baynes, "who was born in 1794 and noted particularly for his architectural and landscape drawings and paintings. Baynes died in 1854." I do not believe the royal personage passed by or landed at Upnor.
There is a group of paintings, nevertheless, attributed to Monamy, which are persistently noted as having some connection with landings by the Georges at Margate. On what basis, I do not know: perhaps they are all merely following the initial error of some early nincompoop.
"History is merely a perversion of events."
Napoleon, [A.J.P.Taylor?], with advantages.
"In one view ... the history of scholarship is a history of error".
"Mediocre minds cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices."
"All truth passes through three stages. 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident."
"Scholars belong to guilds held together by common opinions, attitudes, and methods. As a rule, innovation is welcome only when it is confined to surface details and does not modify the structure as a whole."
Cyrus H.Gordon, 1982
"There are some curious men who form an idea of a master, by the sight of three or four of his pictures; and who, after this, believe they have a sufficient authority to decide what his manner is; without considering what care the painter took about them, and what age he was of when he drew them. ..... There is none also that had not his beginning, his progress, and his end; that is to say, three manners."
From Art of Painting, 1706, by Roger de Piles, 1635 - 1709
to be continued
chronology & authenticity
?!? portchester ?!?
medway, thames estuary, etc
gravesend, tilbury, etc
monamy website index
© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2012, 2014, 2015
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