anomalously unique: why and how? jury still out on this one

The Best of Monamy
A Personal Selection

Since we don't know exactly what art is for, or what use it is, the terms "good, better, best" are not allowable in the earnest art critic's vocabulary. The excellence of an object is measurable by its fitness for its purpose. I know what I like, however, as the philistine saying goes. Presumably "art" springs into existence at the interface between the artist's impulse to express himself, and the reception his product is accorded by its consumer, in the parlance of our times.

Sometimes the consumer, critic or patron, can persuade the bystander of the artist's merit. Sometimes the artist is able to create the taste by which he is to be valued. Usually the excellence of the patron's judgement is defined by the depth of his pocket, and he in turn, since he is often sure of his wealth but unsure of his judgement, may rely on the critic. As this meandering preamble is getting us nowhere, I'll cut it short, and only say that the pictures hanging in the show below have been subjectively picked out for a number of different reasons: the beauty and interest in their beholder's eye. At least they haven't been chosen because they demonstrate the painter's dependence on his antecedents.


private collection

watermen's hall

So far as I am concerned, the pictures at left are great works, unique, original and splendid. Nothing like them had been seen in English painting before, and they exhale a spirit of endeavour, grit and glory barely indebted to any dauber of past times, or other climes.

Few may agree. But new appraisal is well overdue, and a positive re-evaluation will surely take place in time.


national maritime museum

national maritime museum

national maritime museum

buckingham palace

national maritime museum

private collection

private collection

private collection

private collection

private collection

private collection

private collection


private collection

he made many excursions towards
the coasts and seaports of England
to improve himself from nature

George Vertue's words are quoted because his are the only genuinely contemporary comments of any substance, and because he has been almost totally overlooked or ignored in all later commentaries, in favour of the precious condescension of H.Walpole.

industry and understanding in the
forms and buildings of shipping

Since none of these commentators knew anything about the forms and buildings of shipping, they chorused their agreement that Monamy was truly meticulous in this respect. No endorsement of his skill in this area could be more certain. But, although excellent, it wasn't art, which is only reserved for the judicious elect.

by constant practice he distinguished
himself and came into reputation

His reputation had nothing to do with the quality of his work, which it was quite unnecessary to examine. It was well-known that there was no variety in his pictures, and his water, exclusively drawn from the turgid Thames, positively reeked of the calico it was patterned on. What was his reputation based on? Well, we might not know anything about ships, but we do know that van de Velde was an even greater painter than Scott. Walpole told us so. Monamy must have been just like van de Velde. People thought his paintings were by van de Velde, but actually they were slavish copies. So that's how he came into reputation.

In any case, Monamy was only esteemed by sea-faring people, soiled merchants, and rough, tar-trousered naval types, whose noses for sublime aromas, compared with those of the Bond Street virtuosi, were conditioned by dwelling level with the lowest sewers of Wapping.

It's easy to be sarcastic and facetious. I might turn into the Walpole de nos jours, and should be gentle with these butchers.

No, Monamy was not a great artist, he was simply "reckon'd the finest painter of shipping in England". And he could not be called inferior to Wootton, as a look through the 1984 Kenwood catalogue will confirm. Unlike the pliable midget, Scott, who was not in any case a marine painter in any real sense, Monamy was a man who stood up straight, was not a trimmer, and won renown on his own unflagging industry and merit, without cultivating a corrupt administration.

his neatness and clean pencilling
of sky and water


national maritime museum

Most of the paintings in this selection are from Monamy's middle period. No doubt anyone who wants to can find van de Velde in one or two of them. Personally, I think there are more interesting things to look for. Joe Sympson Junior's mezzotint is thrown in with the rest. The man deserves better than to be damned by Walpole for his want of excellence.

"Mr Locke very justly and finely observes of wit, that it is chiefly conversant in tracing resemblances; he remarks at the same time that the business of judgement is rather in finding differences." Edmund Burke, On Taste: the introduction to Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.

"Monamy, the marine painter, some of whose pictures were scarcely inferior to Vandevelde's, served his apprenticeship on London Bridge, and exhibited his works in the window of his shop, to the delight of the sons of Neptune, men and boys, who were seen in crowds gazing at his wondrous art." William H.Pyne, Wine and Walnuts, 1823.

"What the artist perceives is, primarily, the difference between things. It is the vulgar who note their resemblance." Vladimir Nabokov, Otchayanie, 1932.


private collection

national maritime museum

tate gallery

private collection

private collection


was private collection: discarded 2013

private collection

rcyc


exeter city

private collection

private collection

national trust

"if [Samuel Scott] was but second
to Vandevelde in sea-pieces
he excelled him in variety"

IN VARIETY ???

thank you, Horace,
and good-night


byng collection

yale center

authentic monamy
monamy & turner
monamy & claude
monamy website index



private collection

rcyc


private collection

from witt library

more pieces to be added


private collection


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© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003, 2007, 2013
all rights reserved