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." This comes from the English translation of his Art of Painting, first published in 1706.
"..... a scholarly myth can spread 'like a computer virus' until it becomes accepted historical fact."
Helen Morales, TLS, May 15, 2009, p 11
"Harold Osborne proposes that works of art are objects 'adapted to sustain aesthetic contemplation
in a suitably trained and prepared observer' --- obviously a useless definition ."
John Carey, What Good are the Arts ?, 2005, p 15
Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.
What follows is the substance of a letter written in mid-August, 2015. My correspondent had suggested that I ought to write an account of Monamy's life and works. I believe he had in mind a traditional catalogue raisonné.
I appreciated his suggestions as to what I should write, but I hoped he would accept that the title I had in mind was: Peter Monamy, 1681-1749, & British Art History. This would aim to start a discussion of marine painting, not as some negligible tenth-rate genre, far inferior to grubby Madonnas and dead Christs from Italy, unworthy of attention by self-appointed art historians, as brain-washed and churned out by the Courtauld Institute, but as of major, high significance in the genuine history of British art.
The history of British painting in general, let alone British marine painting, is an enormous muddle. The marine genre has been deliberately sidelined by the likes of Horace Walpole (contorted by crypto-Jesuitical snobbery), mentally infirm John Ruskin (pre- and post-Turner), and their acolytes. Marine painting in the British Isles, where nowhere is more than 55 miles from the sea, has been the most popular art genre since at least the mid-seventeenth century, when Britain's 300 year rule of the waves was dauntlessly founded by Cromwell's General-at-Sea, Robert Blake. It has been a major factor in British art.
Without the work done by Robinson on van de Velde, Kingzett on Scott, and Joel on Brooking, it would have been impossible even to begin to sort things out. Cockett's Early Sea Painters is of use, but his hastily rushed out and sadly ill-considered book on Peter Monamy set things back 20 years. What these publications all lack is any real account of the history or chronology of the paintings. There seems hardly any serious attempt to understand the lives of the painters, or which pictures were painted at which stages of their progress or development. There is little or no understanding of the part played by politics and religion, and changes in fashion, patronage or taste.
My correspondent drew attention to the books by the Prestons, Lionel and Rupert. He also mentioned that it is commonly said that William van de Velde the Younger "painted pictures often with the help of a group of students, working under his supervision at Greenwich". There seems to be no realisation at all, by Robinson, the Prestons, or anyone else, that the van de Veldes were kicked out of Greenwich very soon after the arrival of William III, in 1688, after approximately 15 years working for Charles II and the Duke of York, later James II, both Roman Catholics. The Younger continued painting for nearly 20 years after he left Greenwich. The Elder died three/four years after leaving Greenwich. and was buried at St James's in Piccadilly. The Younger seems to have had a studio in Covent Garden, and Cornelius a completely separate studio in St Giles.
One's train of thought chugs towards Popery and Painting.
Towards the end of the 1690s paintings by the van de Veldes were appearing in salerooms, and at auction. Remmelt Daalder, in van de Velde & Zoon, zeeschilders, 2013, p 207, notes the sale advertised in the London Gazette, 18 January 1694, of the collection of paintings by the Elder van de Velde, in "Sackfield-street", 24th January. Unfortunately the catalogue seems not to have survived. Although some naval officers still patronised the Younger van de Velde, there must have been a significant loss of patronage and commissions from both the king and the aristocracy, and Horace Walpole actually refers to this. He says that William III took little interest in the arts. Since William commissioned Christopher Wren to build St Paul's, I don't think Walpole is completely correct. He seldom is. In any case, although there doesn't seem to be any direct proof of the Elder van de Velde's alleged treachery against the Dutch, he definitely seems to have fallen out of favour with William III. See here. Also Daalder, page 176. The oil painting of Holmes's burning of Schelling is dated with the initials W.V.Velde 1676, although the bonfire, allegedly involving the Elder, took place in August or September 1666.
From about 1695 Sailmaker, obviously a dedicated sympathiser with the Protestant cause, benefited from the decline of the van de Veldes, and started to flourish. This is mentioned in Early Sea Painters, in a contribution believed to be by Frank Cockett's daughter. Contrary to what is commonly said of Sailmaker's work, especially by George Vertue, some of his paintings are outstandingly good, but they are entirely and totally different in character from the paintings by the van de Veldes. Sailmaker's best work is highly decorative, whereas, although the van de Veldes did carry out interior decoration, eg at Ham House, the basis for their art, or the Elder's art, was ship draughtsmanship. Later on, the Younger van de Velde was quite strongly concerned to compete with Bakhuysen. At least two of the van de Velde ships in storms look to me like models, gingerly and perhaps artificially placed in turbulent water.
Well-known paintings by the Younger van de Velde, who seldom went far out to sea
Little used to be known about Cornelius van de Velde. I discovered that Cornelius was born in 1674, in Holland. My impression is that by about 1700, aged 25, Cornelius was operating a studio completely separately from the Younger William. He seems to have maintained a certain reputation, but was not considered as good as his father, in his heyday. Walpole said he made good copies of his father's work, but Walpole is not 100% reliable. It has now been established by Remmelt Daalder that Cornelius died in 1714.
With the death of the Younger William in 1707, and the death of Cornelius in 1714, aged only 40, we can sense the beginning of the rise of Monamy. Contrary to what Deuchar asserts, in his sadly inaccurate account, there were several rivals to Monamy in British marine painting during the years 1707-1725. It is, to my mind, absolutely certain that Monamy had no employment whatsoever in the studio of the Younger van de Velde. It seems to me quite certain that Monamy took over the decorating business, based on London Bridge, of his master, William Clark, who died just about the time that Monamy was made free of his apprenticeship, in 1704. Various accounts say that Monamy kept a shop on London Bridge. He was certainly not toddling off to Covent Garden to mix paints for van de Velde, for two or three years.
Among Monamy's marine genre contemporaries were Sailmaker, Francis Place, the Vale brothers (Humphrey and Robert), Thomas Baston, Boon, Woodcock (who painted at least 40 copies of van de Velde, in the space of two years, according to Walpole), Johan van der Hagen and other Dutchmen, several others, and of course Cornelius, son of the Younger William. Scott was a considerable copier of van de Velde. He lived near what seems to have been the Younger's studio in Covent Garden.
A crucial development was Kirkall's production of green mezzotints in about 1722, "after van de Velde". These were not all after the Younger, since several of them are flying post-1707 ensigns, and "after van de Velde" may well refer to Cornelius, rather than William. My conjecture is that Kirkall obtained some of the originals from the sale of Cornelius' paintings in 1714, or later. Monamy may have acquired some of Cornelius's oils, also post-1714. The sale of the mezzotints by Kirkall was extremely successful, and made a lot of money for him, and they may have led Monamy to think of himself as competing with van de Velde's reputation.
Around 1725-1730, when Monamy was 45-50 years old, there are several indications that he was becoming a minor celebrity. Vertue first notices him on the occasion of his livery donation to the Painter-Stainers, 1726. This painting uses a van de Velde composition, but it is painted as a decorative mural. The five paintings for Lord Torrington, descibed by Sir Oliver Millar as of great interest and "highly cartographic", must have been a substantial commission, dated 1725. These are absolutely nothing like anything by the van de Veldes, and are very much in the native tradition of Sailmaker and the Vale brothers.
Dunkirk: the menace of Catholic France
The John Robertson Bonhams sale catalogue of 9 July 2014, is a publication of interest to marine painting aficionados. I visited Robertson once, in Sussex. I also accompanied him to Bonhams, when he bought lot 114, 11th August, 1993. He had a sort of stamp collector's attitude to his collection of paintings: at least one example of each painter, eg "this is my Brooking, this is my Scott" etc. I suppose he was just setting up an investment portfolio. There was no genuine learning, historical knowledge of naval affairs or appreciation of the aesthetics of the works. The Monamy painting on page 62 of the catalogue, lot 121, was bought back by the Richard Green dealers, and is now with them again, where I saw it when I was in London in 2015. It was atrociously catalogued, as I pointed out to the girl with Richard Green. For a start, it has absolutely nothing to do with Queen Anne's husband, Prince George, since it is flying not the Royal Standard of Queen Anne, but the Hanoverian Standard, incorporating the white horse of Hanover, ie it is quite definitely post-1714. The white horse is plainly visible. Morover, the fort depicted is nothing like Upnor. In fact it is very obviously Tilbury, and the town on the other bank of the Thames is Gravesend. There are several prints depicting both places. This is discussed at length, here on this website. It was probably painted at the re-launch of the Peregrine in 1733, and possibly even later, but commemorating the first ascent of the House of Hanover in 1714. The picture shows the enthusiastically received arrival of George I, consistently appreciated by patriotic and Protestant Englishmen during his reign as king.
Unfortunately, it seems today that the bottom is dropping out of the historic marine art market, and there appears to be no-one with any genuine interest in it. Perhaps there are no more wealthy collectors, enthusiastic about marine painting. The interest is more and more in modern pictures. Possibly there remains a modicum of scholarly interest --- perhaps by someone such as N.A.M.Rodger --- at least he wrote me a pleasant letter. Is it time to start an Anti-Dada movement ?
The misidentifications by the British National Maritime Museum are quite fantastic, based on the idea that Monamy did his best work in 1710 "after leaving the van de Velde studio in Greenwich", which closed there in 1688 when Monamy was aged 7 !!! There is in fact, as my correspondent put it, no-one at the NMM who appears to know anything, worth knowing, about British marine painting. Monamy's Signal to Anchor used to be described as the "visit of the Queen of Portugal in 1708". Absolutely barmy !!! The boat being towed by the first-rate is initialled G R on its stern, and therefore datable to 1714 at the very earliest, and most probably painted in circa 1734. Quarm couldn't believe his eyes when he actually went to look at the picture himself; it had been mis-catalogued at the NMM for 70 years.
About 1733, with the rise of Walpole, and the Excise Crisis, the situation became uncomfortable for Monamy. He was a key player representing the patriotic opposition to the Walpole regime. This opposition, then supported by Prince Frederick of Wales, vigorously sought the world-wide expansion of English trade, and the downfall of Spain, accompanied by the downfall of France; as well as the Papacy and the Roman Catholic church. London merchants and naval officers were tremendously eager to let the fleet loose, across the Atlantic. I am keen to draw attention to this aspect of the history, and the pictures reflecting the situation, as it has malignantly distorted the objective perceptions of British art historians for at least the last 300 years.
Sir Robert Walpole presented himself as a Whig, but he was actually the original Vicar of Bray (1734) who adopted whatever ideology was most advantageous to him at the time. Rather like Tony Blair, or Harold Wilson. The Walpoles were a family of profoundly committed Roman Catholics. Their ancestral tree contained six, SIX, Jesuits, including a martyred Roman Catholic saint. Premier Minister Robert Walpole's own grandfather had been exceptionally prominent at the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, and was knighted by Charles II as a reward. During his lengthy ministry, Sir Robert Walpole did his level best to stay friends with Spain. Jonathan Swift described him as the "spaniel of Spain". He was otherwise believed to be a notoriously corrupt politician. More or less aligned with him were the group of artists and art patrons, known as the Virtuosi of St Luke, described by Elizabeth Einberg as containing "several Tories and Roman Catholics"; in other words, individuals who knew where their bread was buttered, and where to seek patronage. George Vertue was a low-profile Roman Catholic, and a committed supporter of the Stuart dynasty. Unlike Monamy. The lines of patriotism were not drawn according to Whig or Tory political parties, however. There were patriotic Tories, such as Thornhill and Samuel Johnson, and unpatriotic Whigs.
There are several books dealing with the opposition to Walpole, such as The Patriotic Opposition by Christine Gerrard, 1994; Walpole and the Wits, by Bertrand A. Goldgar, 1976; Pictures and Popery: 1660-1760; by Clare Haynes, 2006; and others, but none of them address the significance of marine painting, and the parts played by Monamy and Scott, on opposite political sides, up to the overthrow of Walpole in 1742. Scott was a Walpole bought poodle.
Hogarth was furious about the boot-licking Virtuosi, and was devoted to encouraging native painting. He deeply resented the piles of papist rubbish being imported by Lord Burlington and the dilettanti. Roy Strong would have approved of Burlington. Strong's epigraph in the ridiculously titled The Spirit of Britain announces that Britain's cultural roots are located in the civilisation of Rome. Drivel.
For Monamy, the exact opposite would be the case. Rome would have been the origin of all that was vile and barbaric. There is little doubt, as I see it, that the first Monamy in the Channel Islands, circa 1520, was a Marrano or Converso who, along with a up to a million others, had fled the Roman Catholic Inquisition, either from Spain or Portugal, perhaps via Rouen, not wishing to be burnt alive. The Channel Isles, and Guernsey especially, were excellent first places of refuge, as was subsequently proved for David Garrick's grandfather, and the father of J-T Desaguliers, one of the major founders of English freemasonry. Another Huguenot was William III's chaplain, named Olivier, ancestor of the actor. Tennyson had the right idea, when he wrote of the "Inquisition Dogs, and the Devildoms of Spain".
During the two centuries between 1500 and 1700 the Monamy family became virtually totally assimilated within Protestant Anglicanism, perhaps with a tinge of dissident non-conformity. The one thing that was adamantly resisted was any acceptance of Spain or Roman Catholicism, including its eruption in France, after 1685. The Huguenots of London swore to resist the advance of both the Old and Young Pretenders of the House of Stuart, with every drop of blood in their bodies. It is worth noting that Gainsborough strongly identified with the Huguenots, refused to visit the continent, and is briefly associated with Monamy, although much younger.
One of Rupert Preston's remarks in Marine Painters of the Netherlands, 1974; introduction, page vii, reads "It cannot be overstressed how rash it is to rely too strongly on signatures." I think the only way to approach a study of Monamy's paintings is to start with those that are absolutely rock-solid in their provenance and authenticity. There are so many fakes, fake signatures, faulty attributions, and misconceptions around that the only way forward is to establish what is known for certain, and match the works to what is known of the painter's life. There is no point in saying, eg, that such and such a painting looks very typical, and confirming it as authentic. At the moment there are two paintings at Yale in America (I think they were donated by Cockett's Chinese friend) which look perfect. They are skilfully painted, very tranquil calms, and they both have beautiful signatures. I am 95% certain that they are fakes. One of them seems to have first appeared at Spink's in about 1975, and the other one more recently, about 15 years ago. I would say they are by the same hand. They are quite unlike the pictures that are known to be authentic, but they conform closely to what has been developed and promoted as the typical "Monamy" style.
The picture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, initially sold, in the 1920s, by a British con-man dealer as a van de Velde, was at first judged by Michael Robinson to be either Woodcock or Monamy. Robinson then firmed up, repeatedly over several years, on Monamy. I am quite certain it is by Woodcock, since it strongly resembles other works known to be by him. Walpole says that Woodcock produced at least forty copies of van de Velde. Robinson seems completely unaware of this statement. At any rate, he ignored it, and was fixated upon Monamy as a copyist. There is a painting in the NMM, supposedly a copy of a van de Velde, also believed by Robinson to be by Monamy. I am sure it is by Scott. Scott was much more dependent on van de Velde than Monamy; check Kingzett's catalogue. However, between 1725 and about 1730 there are two or three paintings by Monamy resembling van de Veldes. After about 1733 he ceased being stylistically influenced by the Dutchman; almost completely, so far as I can tell. He did occasionally make use of historic paintings.
Only about one-third of Scott's total output is marine-oriented, and most of that is river-based. I've only found one storm scene by him. He actually had a horror of sea voyaging. Rather like the Younger van de Velde, who avoided going to sea. Scott's real talent was for architecture, town views and static subjects. However, he was strongly patronised by the Walpoles from about 1732, and continued to be heavily promoted by Horace Walpole, throughout his life, and long after his death. Horace was almost demented in his praise of Scott as a marine painter. Presumably this was to set him up as a rival to Monamy, who was dedicated to the Walpole opposition, and, concurrently, anti-George II. Horace Walpole's enthusiasm seems to have been quite annoying to Scott, but Scott was caught by his financial indebtedness. Monamy appears never to have had a particular patron, and this makes him, along with Hogarth, almost unique among 18th century painters --- outside portraiture.
Horace Walpole's influence on Anglo-American art historians is considerable, disastrous and pernicious. There is the "Walpole Society" in England, and the "Lewis-Walpole Library" in America. By the turn of the 18th century various people had seen through him. These included Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, Lord Macaulay, and John Wilson Croker, in spite of the strong animosity between Croker and Macaulay. Croker, a great friend of the Duke of Wellington, was secretary to the Admiralty for more than twenty years. He was of the opinion that Horace Walpole had "poisoned the minds of posterity". Walpole's favourite, Samuel Scott, was not well regarded in the mid-19th century. However, towards the end of the 19th century, Walpole became re-habilitated in the minds of art historians. The damage that he did to Monamy's reputation was substantial. Walpole allegedly based his account on the notes of George Vertue. Although Vertue was a Roman Catholic, and a committed supporter of the Stuart dynasty, and although there are mistakes in his account, he does not seem to be blatantly derogatory. He wrote a total of 326 words on Monamy's life and work. These were compressed into 110 words by Horace Walpole, and they are subtly chosen. Poisonous, in effect. By the end of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th, their poison was working, and the art historians were parrotting them, as well as each other. They still are.
Looking through Rupert Preston's book I've just come across a composition said to be signed Cornelis van de Velde, which in several respects matches a number of examples on my website. It seems to be the picture mentioned elsewhere as signed by Cornelis, "painted in the style of Peter Monamy". Most of these parallel compositions seem to be by Samuel Scott, however, and I don't believe Monamy had anything at all to do with them. I have completely lost faith in what any of these writers, Preston, Archibald, Cordingly, Deuchar, van der Merwe, Robinson, Parker, Cust, Chatterton say about Monamy. They are totally misled by Walpole.
Francis Swaine is often mentioned as a copyist of van de Velde. I do not know of a single painting by Swaine which copies van de Velde, or "follows" the van de Veldes in any way at all. On the other hand there is overwhelming evidence, particularly in prints, that Swaine was a dedicated follower of Peter Monamy. Some of his paintings relate very directly and closely to earlier works by Monamy. The NMM has this to say: Swaine's "work was an interpretation of ideas made popular in England by William van de Velde the Younger's (sic)". Some of these comments seem barely literate. Gaspar Butler, a perfectly skilled artist, is described as executing a painting "on a copper plate", and is sneered at.
Refreshing my mind with what the NMM has to say about these early marine painters, I am appalled. The naval history seems to be accurate, but the art history is still as crazy as ever. There seems to be someone there who is determined to ignore all my research and everything I've discovered during the last 35 years. At least two pictures of the Burning of the Soleil Royal at La Hogue in 1692 are credited to William van de Velde, the Elder ! The Elder, born 1611, died in 1693, and it is suggested that these pictures were painted in the last year of his life, when he no longer had a studio in Greenwich. Monamy's painting "still shows the overwhelming influence of the Dutch style" imported by the van de Veldes. "Monamy was self-taught, but may have worked in van de Velde's studio in Greenwich". Monamy was then aged 7. "Monamy was at the height of his career when he was commissioned to paint various scenes from the war of the Austrian Succession, 1740-1748". Garbage. Monamy was not at the height of his career in 1740-1748. Towards 1748 he was "decayed and infirm", and relying on the sale of prints after his works. Horace Walpole was keen to consign Monamy, at the age of 36, to the dustbin at the end of the reign of George I, in 1727. Even Rembrandt went bankrupt.
Sailmaker is described thus: he "was born in Scheveningen in 1633 and emigrated to England when young (actually about 1650, aged 17). He was an early marine painter working in England prior to 1710 (!!!), although he had not benefited from the typical marine artist's apprenticeship. He was, however, among the artistic followers of the van de Veldes, who left Holland for England in 1672 and established a flourishing school of marine painting in London." Sailmaker preceded the van de Veldes in London by at least 20 years. TWENTY YEARS. There is not a vestige of their influence in any of Sailmaker's pictures, some of which are outstanding in their artistic design.
End of Rant.
.... by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time
And cast the kingdom old
Into another mould
Recent art auction prices. According to The Daily Telegraph, April 11 2016, the following sums were paid for these painters: Bacon $142.4 million; Warhol $105.4 million; Rothko $86.9 million; Pollock $58.4 million; Lichtenstein $95.4 million. What is the top price ever paid for a van de Velde marine ? Or any marine ? Perhaps Lot 33, Christie's, 13 Dec 2000, £1,569,000 ? See The Fresh Breeze, by James Mitchell, 2010, p 12.
See also Time, April 11 2016, p 48; Chinaman's fake Rothko, $8.3 million, sold in 2004, to Domenico De Sole, Chairman of Sotheby's. A sense of unreality descends.
See here for Ruskin on van de Velde, and the Dutch.
The above rant is not concerned with taste, or relative merit, in painting.
I much prefere Vermeer, Rembrandt and Bakhuysen to Freud, Bacon, and Warhol,
let alone Alfred Wallis.
Opinions may only be expressed by those suitably qualified to give opinions.
"The picture's value is the picture's price"
monamy website index
monamy anomalies monamy problems
à bout de souffle
hervey & others on robert walpole
peter monamy and british art historians
popery and painting
© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016
all rights reserved