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

TWO


Noon       Midi
P.Monamy pinxt     Publish'd according to Act of Parliament 21 Febry. 1745-6     Canot sculp.
Printed for John Bowles & Son, at the Black Horse in Cornhil


Sun under a Cloud     Soleil couvert de Nuages
P.Monamy pinxt     Publish'd according to Act of Parliament 21 Febry. 1745-6     Canot sculp.
Printed for John Bowles at the Black Horse in Cornhil


Moonlight       Claire de Lune
An exact match, in reverse, with the print of 1745/46: unsigned, considered authentic.

Above and below are two authentic oils by Monamy, two line engravings, one mezzotint and one etching. They can all be described as calms. However, it is not their calmness which is their principal circumstance, to use the terminology of Joseph Highmore. Or perhaps a better way of putting it is that although serenity is the backdrop, the focus of interest is something other.

Piled alongside are eight paintings, all of which I have now come to think of as pseudo-Monamys. It can hardly be doubted that all of these, at some time in the recent or distant past, have been attributed to Monamy. They are presently expected to embark on new incarnations as the works of Thomas (?) Leemans, and several have already metamorphosed. Leemans is examined more thoroughly here.

In my current conjecture, which may change, these paintings started to enter the market in the late 18th and early 19th century. All unsigned, their acceptance as by Monamy seems to be increasingly reflected in the comments on his work starting in 1816, as first noted in the remark by Bryan, on the previous page.

There is (can it be denied?) a great contrast between these pictures and the authentic calms by or after Monamy shown above and below. Compare also the full inventory of contemporary prints after the reputed calms virtuoso, gathered together here, barely one of which resembles the images in the stack on the right.

While not claiming that Monamy never painted a picture of the type alongside (see the abysmal example dated 1734), my belief is that they were relatively far and few between. Among the principal circumstances of most of Monamy's marines are light, motion, and sensation, as they are for any sea-going sailor. Before long under canvas, the mariner's concerns are swallowed up by the sea and sky, both ever-changing, both constantly scanned for signs of warning.

A land-based painting of a sea calm excludes motion, strange to relate, so in order to maintain an emotional interest in the picture some form of other intensification of sensation is needed. Monamy's calms are best understood by looking for the extra ingredient he has supplied, which, in my view, is lacking from the paintings down the right. These are, although tediously repetitive in bulk, patently correct and meticulous, where Monamy's perspective often seems distorted and slightly awry. Accurate draughtsmanship does not appear to have a high priority for Monamy; in this he seems curiously modern.

"Art" is not graphic replication with photographic accuracy, though art is not excluded from photographically accurate paintings. Hogarth's views seem apt in this context. "Whatever is, or can be, perfectly fixed, ..... may be denominated still life. Ship and landscape painting ought unquestionably to come into the same class; for, if copied exactly as they chance to appear, the painters have no occasion of judgment".

The need to inject some action or drama is strongly felt, hence, perhaps, the ubiquitous puff of smoke in these calms. See the mezzotint after Monamy, below, which also introduces the figures straining in the foreground. Where there is no movement, Monamy turns his attention to the source of light, moon or sun. Even the etching contains some weather interest, with the approach of rain clouds from the left of the image.

There may be some truth in Colonel Grant's remark that Monamy, in effect, did not seek to emulate "that mastery of tone which renders the most featureless calms of Van de Velde or Van de Capelle so many gems of pearly purity", although the painting from the conversation piece might be considered an example of a study in tone. Pearly pure calms, however, as represented in the twenty-two contemporary prints after his paintings, constitute only about ten per cent of his total output. See here and here and here.


see margarita russell willem van de velde de jonge p 11

 

 


 


etching, undated; circa 1729?

conversation piece; circa 1729-31

mezzotint, circa 1735 ?

calm excellence: one
calm excellence: continued
vertue & walpole & others
calms: introduction
prints & paintings
thomas (?) leemans
monamy website index
sunstroke


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© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003
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