à bout de souffle

Page Twenty-Five

MONAMY'S LAST ASSISTANTS
Brooking, born 1723; & Swaine, born 1725.
Could have been the decayed old dauber's grandsons.


Monamy died February 1749, aged 68. Charles Brooking was 26. Francis Swaine was 24.

Charles and Francis have both been subjected to remarkably obtuse comments regarding their early years as marine painters.

It is still being said, by the National Maritime Museum, in September 2013, that "most of Charles Brooking's extant paintings date from the last six years of his career and are principally marine subject matter". The last six years of Brooking's life would be 1753-1759. The NMM is being sillier than elsewhere in this comment on Brooking. Brooking's paintings are exclusively concerned with marine subject matter; and many of them precede 1753, notably several actions of the Royal Family privateers, dating 1745-1747, and already issued as prints by 1753.

How is Peter Monamy's signature on the picture at left, painted much in the manner of Brooking, as well as in its subject-matter, to be explained?

The same question applies to another painting, upper above right, signed Monamy, 12 x 15¼, auctioned by Sotheby, 3/5/95. Below it is the same subject, signed Brooking. See here: ships plying to windward. There appear to be at least six versions of this composition. Two by van de Velde (?); three by Brooking, and one by Monamy. The likelihood of the version signed Monamy actually being by him is precisely nil.

"The influence of Peter Monamy on Francis Swaine's style has been noted and has led to an unfounded tradition that the latter worked in Monamy's studio (see Stephen Deuchar, 'Francis Swaine', Oxford Art Online)." An utterly unfounded comment.

This painting, left, attributed to Monamy, bearing what might be his signature, is more convincingly attributable to Swaine, and discussed in more detail, here.

The aim of this page, however, is to put one and one together, in hopes of reaching the dizzy heights of two.

The NMM has no idea what Brooking was doing before 1753, and the V&A is quite sure that Swaine wasn't anywhere near Monamy, at any time. Perhaps the V&A still thinks that Swaine was running around as a Navy Messenger, as peddled for many years by the NMM. The simple reason that Brooking and Swaine were invisible, as themselves, before 1749, is that they were subservient to Peter Monamy. As soon as he snuffed it, up they popped.

Now then, miserable amateur, when I raise my fingers, as shown here, how many do you see ?

Please, Sir, could it be one and one, making two ?

Two ? You semi-imbecilic, cowering slave ? Turnkey, prepare Room 101, at the double, and make sure the rats have been properly starved.

Oh, Sir, please, no, no --- How many fingers would you like there to be ?

That's more like it. When I give you the two-fingered salute, you will see precisely as many fingers as I tell you to see.

Wonderful, wonderful. Please may I kiss your bottom, Sir ?

The bitterness of academic life was memorably noted by Max Weber.

"When we are confronted with the expression of the mind of someone long dead, embodied in a work of art ..... we have to develop a technique of questioning, asking questions which arise out of the work itself."
Helen Gardner, The Business of Criticism, 1959.

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Check King Lear: Act 4, Scene 6

Art historian: British or American; Marine Department.
The salaried office-holding placeman pronounces judgement.

Know this about Master Monamy: Son of a hardened Guernsey jail-bird, otherwise described as "gent". The boy was baptised at St Olave's, in Jersey --- no, hang about, I think that was his son, in 1680, was it ? Or '81 ? Well either that year, or 1670, or, perhaps, 1689. Not to worry. Although employed and trained by a Master Painter-Stainer for seven years, young Monamy didn't learn anything from him, so he had to teach himself. He did this by lolling out of his window on Old London Bridge, and ogling the ships on the Thames. He might have worked for a van de Velde, had it been possible, but the whole tribe had been ejected from their premises in 1689, when William III ousted their wooden-headed patron, James II, who had followed his sleazy brother Charles II as King; and in any case Monamy was only 8 years old at the time. Besides which, the van de Veldes could hardly speak English, and would certainly not have employed a callow, local, cockney like Monamy. What we distinguished ART historians want to say, is that Monamy, at the same time he was running his master's retail shop on London Bridge (which he took over in about 1704, when the old man died) was simultaneously toddling off to Covent Garden (or St James), in order to mix the paints and add a few daubs to the paintings of the van de Veldes. But it is difficult to understand how he could at the same time have been fathering children, via two successive wives, and registering his own apprentice, by 1707. No matter: we are ART historians, and can say exactly what we like, basing our writings on facts, which we freely change to fit our theoretical preconceptions, and time-honoured prejudices.

"A sizable chunk of art history consists of unravelling other people's errors and substituting your own."
From The Raphael Affair, by Iain Pears, 1990. Chapter 5

Taste. It may have been Cicero who first remarked that taste is not a matter for discussion; or perhaps, more idiomatically, that there is no accounting for taste. The word implies that some things please more than others, and are consequently "better". But is an unmade bed a "better" work of art than a pile of bricks? Or a bisected calf than a Campbell's soup tin wrapper? The only real art lies in discovering a patron with the pocket to provide. Some artists can't manage this until after they've passed on. But those that wish to live in comfort must please, as Johnson almost put it. In the end all pronouncements by arbiters of taste are arbitrary; and nearly all comment on Monamy's painting has been soundly and severely prejudiced. See Hume, Of the Standard of Taste, 1757:

#21 "A person influenced by prejudice .... obstinately maintains his natural position, without placing himself in that point of view, which the performance supposes."
#22 "Prejudice is destructive of sound judgement, and perverts all operations of the intellectual faculties."
#23 "Few are qualified to give judgement on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty .... a true judge in the finer arts is observed .... to be so rare a character."
#24 "Where are such critics to be found? .... How distinguish them from pretenders?"

Numbering by Theodore Gracyk. I repeat: Of the Standard of Taste, 1757, by David Hume, 1711-1776.

Here's another tuppence-worth. Bad, good, better, best and excellent are (needless to say) useless terms in aesthetic terms, and cannot be used in connection with art artefacts. They can only be used in connection with non-art artefacts, where the purpose of the artefact is known. For instance, the purpose of a ship is to float: if the ship sinks, with no excuse, it is a bad ship. It is a fact, however, that no-one has discovered what the purpose of art is, and it is not possible therefore to measure the fitness for purpose of an art artefact. And that's a fact. Show me a work of art, and tell me what its purpose is: then I'll be able to say if it is good, bad or indifferent.

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the monamy family: C16 & C17
chronology & authenticity
monamy website index

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truth, then, be thy dower.

Die Fälschung unterscheidet sich vom Original dadurch, dass sie echter aussieht. Ernst Bloch

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2013
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Peer review makes publication susceptible to control by elites and to personal jealousy.