This is the only contemporary print after Monamy specifically titled A Calm

"HE IS REPUTED TO HAVE EXCELLED IN CALMS"
Samuel Redgrave, Dictionary of Artists of the English School, 1878

ONE

These pages address Monamy's reputed excellence at painting calms. First, the manner in which this reputation was acquired and established will be discussed. Second, a theory will be advanced as to how the reputation came to be reinforced and perpetuated. Third, the essential nature of a marine calm will be investigated. An unusual feature of this approach will be its illustration by actual works attributable to Monamy with certainty, as well as contemporary line prints and mezzotints after his paintings, of almost equal merit in the pursuit of authenticity.

To the right is a column of art-historical literary comment, arranged chronologically. Omitted from the roster of experts, ten in all, is E.Keble Chatterton, since although this cheerful author has probably exercised quite a strong influence on the general public's perception of Monamy's contribution to English marine painting, it should quickly be obvious to even the dimmest student that his opinions, and many of his assertions of fact, are plucked out of thin airy nowhere. See here. He can be ignored, though not safely.

The excerpts presented, a selection specifically relating to calms, extracted from comments on Monamy taken from here, may reasonably be thought to issue from impeccably respectable sources. There are three snippets from the 18th century, five from the 19th and five from the 20th. The domino effect, the content degradation, and gradual descent into pure gibberish by the last five, is instructive. Art-historically speaking, either laughable or lamentable, since it is clear that few of these writers know any of Monamy's works. Grant had noticed a moonlight piece, but it did not alter his perception. The ten or so experts quoted appear to have seen, between them, at the most, a dozen of Monamy's estimated 4-500 paintings.

Lord Orford was probably more familiar with the oeuvre than Vertue, it may be suspected. The manner in which he expressed his contempt, however, worked to Monamy's detriment over two centuries, beyond all expectation. His subtle emphasis on the "shallow waves" demonstrably erases the "turbulence of the ocean" down the years, and by 1980 there is a generally received impression of the painter's works which is the exact opposite of the truth. Monamy's storms, breezes, battles, panoramas, ship portraits, are ignored.

Bryan, Cunningham and Redgrave appear to be conscious that there is something odd about Walpole's account, but their ignorance of the life and the paintings does not give them enough confidence to set the record straight. After 1900 the influence of the DNB and Grant, combined with Walpole, dominates all later assessment.

The heavy emphasis on the calms appears to originate with Bryan's remark in 1816: "His calms, particularly, are sunny and transparent". This date I take to be significant. There are signs of a renewed lively interest in Monamy from the beginning of the Napoleonic wars up to about 1830. This is apparent in the positive anecdotes supplied by W.H.Pyne (1823) and J.T.Smith (1828), and in the correction "for Jersey read Guernsey" in Pilkington's Dictionary, 1798 and subsequent editions. At the same time there was, what I am finally beginning to recognize, an outpouring of unsigned pastiche paintings, virtually all calms, which evoked the early 18th century, and could well have been taken for either Scott or Monamy.

Presumably there was more than one author of these pictures, but several, I suggest, can be ascribed to the painter now known as T.Leemans.


Monamy's print, A Calm, appears to owe as much
to van de Cappelle as to van de Velde

 

He took to the study & inclination of painting of ships --- or sea pieces from the Variety of those Views he had continually before his eyes where he liv'd when prentice. Vertue, unpublished, 1726.

He livd some years latter part of his life at Westminster near the River side, for the Conveniency in some measure of viewing the Water & Sky. tho' he made many excursions towards the Coasts and seaports of England to improve himself from Nature. Vertue, unpublished, 1749.

The shallow waves that rolled under his window. Walpole, published, 1780.

Lord Orford observes, speaking of this artist, 'where nature gives talents, they break out in the homeliest school. The shallow waves which rolled under his window, fitted him to imitate the turbulence of the ocean'. .... His calms, particularly, are sunny and transparent. Bryan, published, 1816.

Where nature endows with talents, they burst forth in the lowest situations; and the shallow waves which rolled beneath his window enabled him to imitate the turbulence of the ocean. Cunningham, published, 1840.

There is a picture by him at Hampton Court ..... showing a fine quality of texture, with great precision of touch, the calm plane of the ocean receding into the extreme distance. Redgrave, published, 1866.

He is reputed to have excelled in calms. Redgrave, published, 1878.

He devoted himself to drawing the shipping and other similar subjects on the Thames. DNB, published, 1894

His ocean is invariably the weakest part of his work, since, like his models the Van de Veldes, like Brooking, Callcott, Stanfield, and all other artistic longshoremen, whose study of the sea has been conducted from the beach, he seemed never to be able to escape from the sickly hues and uninspiring forms of shallow water. Grant, published, 1926.

His knowledge of the sea was much less than his knowledge of ships and there is a faint air of calico about much of his water. Waterhouse, published, 1953.

There was Peter Monamy, who so often copied van de Velde's compositions slavishly. Oxford Companion to Art, published, 1970/1989.

He found his subjects almost entirely in shipping on the Thames. He developed a meticulous style based on that of the van de Veldes, and his work has little variety. Oxford Companion to Art, 1970/1989.

He imitated the mannerisms of the Van de Veldes too pedantically, so that 'there is a faint air of calico about much of his water'. Burke, published, 1976

"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." De Piles, The Art of Painting, Chap XXVIII, part II.

go to page two


for this painting and composition, see here

calm excellence: two
vertue & walpole & others
calms: introduction
prints & paintings
thomas (?) leemans
monamy website index
reach for the skies


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© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003
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