"Most pictures are accepted as being by Raphael, or Titian, or Rembrandt because experts say they are. Very few pictures have solid documentary evidence behind them. So, if some reputable bunch weighs in with an opinion, then it's taken seriously ...... You know how easily impressed some people are. So, museums eventually relabel their pictures. Happily if a work is upgraded, with much gnashing of teeth if it's downgraded. I believe the catchword in America these days is de-attribution."
Iain Pears, The Titian Committee, 1991, Chapter 7.


The Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Walpole, K.B., 1706-1784. Patriotic picture collector

THE PROBLEMS OF PROVENANCE
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One of the more surprising discoveries made when accessing the Getty Provenance Database was that Edward Walpole, Horace's elder brother, had been a considerable patron of English painting, purchasing many marines. Forty-three pictures from his collection were sold on July 8/9, 1814, following the death of his daughter, Mrs Laura Keppel, in 1813. The auction offered 132 lots, and the Getty database comments: "The results were not very impressive. The first 65 lots sold at low prices, including those from Walpole. Most succeeded in finding buyers, but at low prices, with just one reaching 20. The remaining lots, including all of those auctioned on the second day, were mostly bought in, and only one lot was sold for more than 10. The reason for the disappointing figures possibly had to do with the poor quality of the pictures or the general economic malaise of the time."

Edward Walpole's collection included 4 paintings by Monamy: two simply described as sea pieces [fetching 2-15-0 and 1-5-0] ; a sea piece with a ship of war firing a signal [2-0-0]; and a ship on fire [2-2-0]. Besides Scott, Brooking and Swaine, other English painters included thirteen by Wootton; three by Oram; one each by Lambert and Taverner. The Scotts fetched good prices and are relatively well described: four riverside views and one sea-piece [15-15-0]. The Walpole-Scott Club had been formed in 1733, and it may be suspected that the Monamys had been bought before this date, and the Scotts after it. However, Edward Walpole continued to patronize Swaine and Brooking. Neither of these painters is mentioned by Horace Walpole. There was an estrangement between Horace and his brother Edward, and again, some conflict of personality and taste may be suspected. Two marines by Backhuysen, owned by Edward Walpole, fetched 20-10-0 and 15.

Below is the beginning of a statistical analysis of selected information provided by the useful database. Useful, but patchy, and the analysis is extremely rough-and-ready. Nevertheless, the results give some comparative indication of the characteristics of the major marine painters, as perceived by the art market of the time. The bulk of the information comes from sales conducted in the early 19th century. There is considerable overlap between the keywords chosen: ie "calm" may overlap with "moonlight". "Shipping" indicates a painting with no feature striking enough to attract special notice in the auction catalogue. Here is a good example of a Monamy which might simply be described as "shipping" by an auctioneer.

Auctions held 1755-1840
Database
keyword
Auction lots
Shipping
Calm
View
Fire
Moonlight
Storm
Battle/Engagement
Gale
Breeze
Sunrise/sunset
At anchor
River
Yacht
Shipwreck
Copper base
Fleet
Edward Walpole
Highest Price
Transaction Date
Monamy
1681-1749
518
127
82
50
19
18
18
12
11
10
10
10
10
5
5
3
3
4
67-4-0
May 23 1835
Scott
1702-1772
147
6
2
97
5
3
0
3
0
0
0
0
7
0
0
0
1
5
37-16-0
Jun 16 1830
Brooking
1723-1759
438
103
59
37
4
12
27
17
34
16
1
4
2
3
4
4
2
1
42-0-0
Jun 8 1805
Swaine
1725-1782
143
33
12
20
6
29
3
3
1
4
0
0
5
0
0
7
0
2
10-10-0 [?]
May 7 1808
W v d Velde
1650-1730
1539
307
440
128
33
7
269
60
126
104
12
51
8
53
23
12
27
0
-
-

The database is by no means complete; and some lots have duplicate entries. The auction house attributions are often very shaky, and not infrequently altered; and they provide no record of signatures, and rarely of picture dimensions. The "keyword" sorts the paintings by that feature which most impressed the auctioneer of the day.

For van de Velde the database only distinguishes between William and Cornelius, and there are only six paintings ascribed to Cornelius. These six are not included, but he must have produced many more subsumed under the van de Velde brand name. Several of these William van de Veldes would also have been by the Elder, rather than the Younger, as well as by other family members.

The high proportion of "views" ascribed to Scott confirms the impression already gained from Kingzett's catalogue that he is wrongly categorized as a marine painter. These views are riverscapes and townscapes, and there is a complete absence of paintings portraying genuine maritime weather conditions.

The top price achieved by the Monamy is remarkable. The catalogue described the painting as "A sea-piece, with a ship of war at anchor, and other vessels in the distance; painted with great truth." This picture was bought by a Mrs Thorpe. Could this Monamy have been the Signal to Anchor, now in the NMM, until very recently anachronistically titled the Visit of the Queen of Portugal ? The description is perhaps too general to make such an assumption.

The sale was one of three held by Christie's in May and June, 1835, and in 1836, to disperse the collection of Sir James Stuart, Bart. Many pictures made high prices. The next highest, after the Monamy, in the two sales in 1835, was a Ruysdael, fetching 52-10-0. This was described as "A view in Norway, with a torrent rushing between woody heights and falling over broken rocks in the foreground, and figures on a road to the right; a capital picture". The description might suggest either of the paintings by Jakob Ruisdael in the National Gallery, London, or in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge. The Romantic sensibility was clearly making itself felt by the 1830s. The run-of-the-mill "shipping" pictures ascribed to Monamy naturally made a lower average price than pictures by Scott and Brooking. In the end the themes treated and prices made by these painters define the markets they were supplying.

more on provenance

"Signatures don't mean much" --- M.S.Robinson, circa 1983

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The Bute marine collection auction, March 19 1796, has now been included in the Getty database.

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