The truth, as Roger de Piles memorably remarked, is that: "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."       The Art of Painting, 1706.

Arts Council Marine Pantings Exhibition 1965
an excerpt


Fifty years on from Mr Archibald's run-down on the history of English marine painting it is high time to bring his account and opinions up-to-date. Their value is mixed, though all expressed in Mr Archibald's bluff and breezy bluster, which is unafraid of generalities and unsubstantiated speculation. In the opinion of some of us, his right views are underlined in green above, the wrong in red.

The observations offered in the text invite comment, so here goes, point by point.

After nigh on 40 years of contemplating English marine painting I cannot once recall hearing Sailmaker described as father of the genre. I do agree that he was essentially English.

Until about 1725 or 1726 there is little evidence that Monamy was conscious of the van de Veldes, and certainly he was not "copying" them, or even "influenced" by them. In fact he was "influenced" by Sailmaker, if anyone. This is in spite of the ludicrous speculations of earlier soi-disant marine art historians. Nevertheless, Archibald does seem partially aware of Monamy's significance, and of the rubbish attributed to him.

Samuel Scott was certainly in no way "more versatile" than Monamy. In general the main difference is that Monamy's compositions were deep and dynamic, whereas Scott's were flat and static. Scott painted perhaps one single solitary scene of a ship in a breeze. He did enjoy the almost frantic support and patronage of the Walpole family. Archibald seems to have swallowed Horace's medicine wholesale. Scott was never greatly appreciated by the genuine naval fraternity, who were anti-Walpole anyway, and seem to have rejected him.

We know more about Monamy's contemporaries these days. However, 90% of the van de Velde copies attributed to Monamy were actually by Woodcock, including the specimen now in the Metropolitan Museum, among the forty others reported by Horace Walpole.

It was in the expressive works of Monamy, during the 1720s, that the grassroots emergence of English marine painting began, to mature a century later in the person of Turner.

The sentiment that we can think of ourselves as lucky that Brooking was worked to death by his rapacious exploiter seems curious.

Two Conflicting Opinions Repeated

He began as a decorative painter and was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers' Company in 1703 following a seven-year training under the house-painter William Clarke. George Vertue records that Monamy had a natural interest in painting shipping. He was a fluent follower and occasional copyist of Willem van de Velde the Younger (and had a collection of his drawings) and modelled his battle scenes on paintings by earlier masters. He lived much of his life in Westminster and died there in 'indifferent' financial circumstances according to Vertue, from charging modest prices and working much for dealers. His younger contemporaries, Brooking and Scott, both eclipsed him artistically, the former dying a pauper, however, the latter being much more successful.

Cotemporary and Contemporary

The ghost of E.H.H.A. lives on in the Maritime Museum verdict, above right.

It is necessary to understand that George Vertue was a Roman Catholic:
he did not think of marine painting as proper art.

Country Life:
John Wood, 1959, Matthew Dennison, 2009
hope and glory revisited
pictures and popery

a choice selection
liverpool & croker on horace

monamy site index

A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing,
either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals."
George Orwell, 1972

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2018
all rights reserved