à bout de souffle
Die Fälschung unterscheidet sich vom Original dadurch, dass sie echter aussieht.
MARITIME ART CATALOGUE
Bonhams 9 July 2014
another superb catalogue
16 June, 2014. Arrived on my doorstep is a magnificently illustrated catalogue of marine paintings, from Messrs Bonhams, bearing date 9 July 2014.
Above is a reproduction of Lot 121, signed Peter Monamy. The errors implicit in its description are of perfectly ghastly dimension.
In the world of marine art history there are few certainties. One of these certainties, of rock-solid, copper-bottomed, incontrovertibility, is that this painting does NOT depict the Medway between Gillingham and Upnor. It cannot be more emphatically stressed that the fortification at the right bears no resemblance whatsoever to Upnor Castle. It is, however, the spitting image of Tilbury Fort, as represented in several contemporary engravings.
How is this farcical catalogue commentary best to be exploded ? A good place to start might be with the revision that was made, in 1989, in connection with Brooking's painting of the same stretch of river.This was mentioned here, but it's worth first elaborating on the correction below, and then moving on to more detailed examinations of C18th depictions of Gravesend and Tilbury.
Before 1989 the Brooking painting was thought to portray the approach to Harwich. A fairly understandable, if not wholly forgivable, surmise, when comparing it with the engraving by Kip, at left, below. The Greenwich museum now notes that until 1989 this picture "was mistakenly identified as showing Harwich"; and adds that "Tilbury Fort is in the centre distance with Gravesend to the left." The centre distance is shown below Kip's print of Harwich, presumably based on a painting by Sailmaker. It shows the port of Harwich, with a prominent church steeple, on the left, and a fort, prominently flying a Union flag, on the right, which would have prompted the pre-1989 identification. David Joel alerted me to the revision himself, acknowledging the mistake in his book.
Described in Joel, p 148, as "A two-decker and a frigate running into Harwich". See also p 151: "... a magnificent scene as these two large men o'war proceed up the narrow channel, which is filled with other shipping."
The "channel" in Brooking's painting is not "narrow", and it's not a "channel" in any case. In his enthusiastic description David Joel seems to have been unduly influenced, perhaps, by the Kip engraving, since the wide-spread waters of the Thames in this picture are not noticeably "filled with other shipping", unlike the "channel" in the engraving.
The silhouette of Tilbury Fort, flag flying, is just discernible in the distance, and, much more prominently, in the detail of the "Monamy" canvas, below left. Below right, the exact identity of the Royal Standard is, at least, debatable. Is that not intended to be a running white horse, in the lower right quarter ? Perhaps it is more clearly detectable, up close, in the flesh.
I wish I could find a kind and gentle term to describe the catalogue commentary presented at left, but unfortunately there is no word for it other than "codswallop". And virtually pure, at that. Balderdash ? Baloney ? Garbage ? Dreck ? Twaddle ?
The first certainty is that this painting does absolutely not commemorate the visit of anybody, whether Prince George of Denmark, or anybody else, to Chatham for any invented purpose whatsoever, since it is located on the Thames, and 100% precisely not on the Medway.
The second certainty is that it was not painted before 1707. It could, however, have been painted at any time after 1707, until it first appeared in the art market, c 1991.
A third certainty, rock-solid, is that while Prince George of Denmark, Queen Anne's consort, may have been her Lord High Admiral, he sadly died on 28th October, 1708, "suffering from severe asthma and dropsy", aged 55. Since the Acts of Union between England and Scotland took effect on 1 May 1707, resulting in the appearance of the Union flag in the canton of the red ensign thereafter, Prince George was not really left with a great window of opportunity to make his imaginary visit to Chatham. One more fact needs noting. It is not quite a 100% certainty, more like a 99.99% certainty. This is that the Royal Standard worn by the Peregrine Royal Yacht, or possibly the Royal Caroline Royal Yacht, incorporates the running wild white horse of Hanover. This means the picture was not painted before 1714, ie 6 years after Prince George had died. The strong possibility is that it was not painted until after Monamy had died, in 1749, since it doesn't seem to be in the manner of any of his paintings of undoubted provenance. By that time, of course, the Royal Yacht was back as the Peregrine.
Note: January, 2015: Having now, at last, inspected this painting in the flesh, I am very considerably more inclined to regard it as substantially authentic. Although its correctness, virtually unique, is still puzzling, I feel that it was executed some time between, say, 1734 and 1740. This would have been as a renewed celebration of the Hanoverian Accession, retrospectively depicting the initial arrival at Gravesend of George I in 1714, and coinciding with the renaming of the yacht as the Royal Caroline in 1733, as well as the resounding defeat of Premier Walpole's Customs and Excise Bill, in the same year.
The historical note at left is fairly precisely accurate, I shouldn't wonder; and almost certainly correct, which might make it rather unique. In other respects there are some writers on maritime art, and this includes E.H.H.Archibald, who seem to suffer the delusion that an oil painting is an early form of photographic snapshot. Monamy got wind of this George's trip to Chatham, so he nipped down to Gillingham with his Brownie, and had the canvas ripe and ready for display in his retail outlet the following morning. You can tell that by the flags the yacht is flying. God help us.
The works in the National Gallery, Dublin, attributed to Monamy, are not by him, or his studio. The picture in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is not by him. See here. Only one of the pictures in Painters' Hall is certainly by him. The picture attributed to him in Sydney is extremely doubtful, but perhaps possible. Some of the paintings in the NMM, said to be his, are quite certainly not by him.
One of the things I've discovered, after 35 years excavating the life and works of Peter Monamy, off and on, is that nobody gives a dam (sic), goddamnit. All that matters to the gentry punting in these waters is the dosh, and how much is in it for them. Consequently, following the lead provided by the art gourmet's supreme example of pâté-de-foie-gras, Horace Walpole, an almost totally fictitious curriculum vitae has gradually been developed for Monamy, complete with an ever-expanding number of misattributions, and, assuredly, utterly spurious latter-day fabrications. But, does it matter, and who cares, anyway ?
I think I've said that already, somewhere. Look back to the beginning of this jeremiad. "History is something to be created rather than learned". So said George Orwell. Art history, like the art market and art itself, is a morass of illusion, confusion and pretension mired in ignorance, indifference, stupidity, greed, deception and mendacity, and has little in common with truth, as thinkers from Plato onwards have suspected. Try Iris Murdoch: The Fire & The Sun, why Plato banished the artists. Or what about What Good are the Arts ? by John Carey. One correspondent has put it as follows. He wrote: "I read that many historians believe that many of the paintings attributed to Monamy may have, in fact, been created by others during a period where this type of art was becoming very popular, and presumably profitable, and I gather it is virtually impossible to make any certain determination with regard to work that is attributed to Monamy."
Up to a point, Lord Copper. "Only he who is directly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come." Arthur Schopenhauer, 1851. Agreed, few people care to spoil a good story with the truth, as an Irish art curator once put it to me, but there may nevertheless still be one or two around who find truth more beautiful than fiction. To such benighted fools, who might like to know who Monamy really was, and what his works really consisted of, I recommend the following procedure, well within the bounds of feasibility.
Ascertain the man's true date and place of birth, his parentage and siblings, his ancestry and cultural heritage, his other relatives. Then his training, marriage(s), children, residences, with dates; death, place of burial, and descendants. His studio and assistants, or apprentices. All this can be found for Monamy, which is not the case for other alleged contemporary practitioners, such as the evanescent T.Leemans. Fair amount of research work, but it's been done for you already, for free, on this very site. These life event details should, of course, be considered in relation to the historical background of contemporary London society, politics, naval affairs, and art patronage.
Next, diligent research into all authentic works, dated wherever possible. A good place to start is with all 25 contemporary prints after his oeuvre: line, mezzotint, etchings and book illustration. These can scarcely be bettered as an accurate guide to his genuine output, and give an excellent feel for his characteristic manner and style. Add to these those relatively few pictures of rock-solid, undeniable provenance. They include: five battle plan paintings in the Byng collection; the 1726 donation to Painter's Hall; the Gawen Hamilton conversation piece; the Capture of the Mars at Sausmarez Manor; the Doggett's Badge winner at Watermen's Hall, the Grocer's Livery Company painting. Add the Capture of the Princesa, the Capture of the San Joseph, the Loss of the Victory, the storm scene in the Tate, the Eddystone lighthouse paintings, Winstanley and Rudyard, and a few more.
Finally, take your "attributed" painting; pay some regard, but not too much, to whether it "bears" a signature or not, and see where it might fit into the research that you have diligently conducted over the decades. The answer, in the case of the painting discussed on this page, is that it doesn't fit in at all.. Remember that many affluent collectors, of the less discriminating sort, would rather buy a nice signature than an authentic painting. This picture comes from the collection of a collector of that ilk. His Samuel Scott is truly magnificent. His other Monamy is more convincing than the one discussed here, but the asking price for that one, lot 114, is only £20,000, as against up to £80,000 for lot 121. I well remember being present when he bought lot 114, at Bonhams, Montpelier Street, near Harrods, 12 August 1993. I'll bet he wouldn't, however, have expected £160,000 plus, for lot 121.
see pages 9, 10, 11 of this jeremiad of lamentation and despair
All truth passes through three stages. 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident.
Has the fourth quarter been fudged ?
If that's not a white horse in the oil painting, what the hell is it ?
Seems to be almost absolutely certain that this picture was not painted before 1714.
But it was quite definitely painted before 1990.
© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2014, 2015
all rights reserved
"Forgeries are more real than the real art they fake." Jonathon Keats.
Bad money drives out good.