January 2007: See Footnote
September 2011: See Page 4

The Signal to Anchor: 3

A specific event?

In the catalogue for the Monamy exhibition at Pallant House, 28 June - 27th August 1983, I noted that: "Together, these two inspiring portrayals of English sea power are the most telling evidence of Monamy's interest in light, structure and naval matters". This was with reference to the Yale and Greenwich paintings. I added that "Their date has been disputed, but they seem mature, rather than early. Personal conjecture links them with the review of the Fleet at Spithead, 1729."

At that time I must have had the above print in mind, which is not related to the paintings, and based my conjecture on a sense of the overall significance which I attached to the Greenwich painting. I was also aware of an undated sketch ascribed to Monamy in the Yale collection, which was noted in 1964 as bearing some close relationship to the Greenwich painting. The right hand detail of this pen and sepia wash is shown below.


7 x 12, Ingram Collection, sold at Sotheby's, 21 Oct 1964, donated to Yale 1975 by Mellon
For comparison, the Yale version in oil is shown below:

In 1992 an edition of Blaise Ollivier's Remarks on the Navies of the English & the Dutch, 1737, was brought out under the title 18th Century Shipbuilding by Jean Boudriot Publications, edited and translated by David Roberts. The end papers of this impressive publication (despite its ascription of the print of the tragic loss of the Victory in 1744, after Monamy, to "Anonymous". p.126. Sometimes Monamy seems almost cursed by these inexplicably careless errors) depict another print of the same 1729 Review of the Fleet. This is an unusually long panoramic scene of the united Dutch and British fleets, inscribed Joshua Molyneux fecit apud Knowsley, and provides more information on the ships and personalities present at the Review than is given in the smaller print, at the top of this page. The central detail of the Molyneux print, shown below, at first glance appeared to offer some further corroboration that Monamy's pictures relate to this occasion.

The resemblance to Monamy's paintings, although I believe there to be some link, on closer inspection seems only to be superficial, however, as is perhaps even more evident in the enlarged section of the detail, below. It may even be purely coincidental, although my feeling is that this would be less likely. I have the impression that either Molyneux had seen Monamy's painting, or Monamy had seen Molyneux's 1729-30 print and/or painting, but that neither had taken a great interest in or been particularly influenced by the other's work.

In Fighting Sail, p.154, Oliver Warner notes that Monamy's Greenwich picture shows all three squadrons of the English fleet. "The Commander-in-Chief, union at the main, is flying the signal to anchor from his ensign staff. The flagships of a Vice-Admiral of the Red and a Vice-Admiral of the Blue are also in evidence."            
The Review of 1729 depicts Sir Charles Wager, Vice-Admiral of the Red, in command, aboard the Cornwall; Sir George Walton, Vice-Admiral of the White, aboard the Princess Emilia; and Heer van Somelsdyke, Vice-Admiral of the Dutch, on board the Leyden.

At one time I was persuaded that the ship shown in Monamy's painting is the Royal Anne, which would conflict with the idea that the occasion represented is the 1729 Review. Moreover, the Monamy has Vice-Admirals of the Red and Blue to either side, with the White nowhere to be seen. However, I no longer think Monamy specifically meant to represent the Royal Anne. See here. In time it may be possible to compare the stern decoration of the Cornwall.

By chance, while checking on the well-known Monamy canvas in the Royal Collection, I discovered that a version of the painting by Molyneux after which the print was engraved is in Buckingham Palace. In Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures, by Oliver Millar, 1963, it is listed as item 491. The painting is 46¼ x 90, and features a man of war from the Isle of Man "among the smaller vessels in the foreground". Molyneux was employed by the 10th Earl of Derby at Knowsley Hall in 1722-28. The combined fleets "lay Equip'd at SPITHEAD during the Whole Sumer MDCCXXIX". It seems that Molyneux was still apud Knowsley in 1729-30.

Auctioned at Christie's, London, May 12th 1967; Lot 45; 52 x 161; "Mollineux"
The English and Dutch Fleets anchored off Spithead in 1729
inscribed with details of ship's captains and number of guns
removed from Knowsley Hall, Prescot, Lancashire

There are of course numerous other differences between the Molyneux print and the Monamy oils. The union flag in the print is not at the main, and the foreground yacht, although in a compositionally similar position, is sailing in the opposite direction. On balance, and unless and until the ships are accurately identified by someone with more expert knowledge than myself, Monamy's Signal to Anchor has to be thought of as an abstraction, a representation of the spirit of the Navy, rather than as a record of an historical event. I cannot believe it shows the arrival of the Queen of Portugal in 1708, but am ready to be confounded by factual evidence. So far, none has been forthcoming, because there isn't any.

If, as I suspect, there is some kind of visual link between Monamy's painting and the long panorama by Molyneux, the question remains of which came first. The print is securely dated to some short time after the Review of 1729; but did Monamy follow Molyneux, or was Molyneux influenced by Monamy? I tend to believe that simpler, less cluttered compositional versions are later, but that need not necessarily always be the case, of course.

The Dictionary of Sea Painters of Europe and America, 2000 AD, dates the Greenwich painting to "c.1715", in its caption to the plate (208), and notes that "The early 18th century saw the return of the open stern gallery, though in a different form from the early 17th century ones." Rather strangely, Archibald's otherwise very comprehensive book The Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, 897-1984, fails to include the Royal Anne, as do Brian Lavery's two volumes on The Ship of the Line, but we do have Baston's unimportant line print ship portrait, depicting the Royal Anne as she was in 1721.

In my view, Monamy could not have produced this painting anything like as early as 1715. Vertue remarks "by constant practice he distinguisht himself and came into reputation", and in 1715 he was still practising. He had not yet "come into reputation", which would take another 10 years. The "Signal to Anchor" is a very confident, mature and masterly piece of work. There is a strong but illogical tendency to suppose that these marine paintings date from the same time as the subjects they illustrate, when in fact they could have been produced many decades after the event. Monamy, as one of his descendants, herself a fine artist, once suggested to me, was as much an illustrator as anything else. The commercial signpainters of the 1700s could have held down well-paid jobs today, as Art Directors in advertising agencies.

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

No doubt the great novelist was familiar with the works of Edmund Burke: "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." On Taste: the introduction to Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1824 edition.

So much for those who look at Monamy and see van de Velde.

This is very possibly the distant ancestor of Monamy's Signal to Anchor: a grisaille by van de Velde the Elder, dated 1672, representing the Dutch Fleet at Sea in a Moderate Breeze in 1666. See Robinson, Vol I, p.79. What is of more interest, the similarities or the differences?

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No man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little. Samuel Johnson, 7th February 1754

Footnote

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