A Picture Manufactory? A Painting School?

"If he is in vogue", says Hogarth, "and can employ a journeyman, and place a layman in the garret of his manufactory, his fortune is made; and as his two coadjutors are kept in the background, his own fame is established". Hogarth was ostensibly talking of portrait-painters, but he may have had other kinds of painter at the back of his mind, as well. Could it be that he had observed how Monamy, once famous and in vogue, had turned his craft into "a sort of manufactory"?

The concept of some form of conveyor belt production of paintings emanating at intermittent periods from Monamy's studio/workshop asserts itself repeatedly. At the same time, it seems necessary constantly to remind oneself of those paintings which may be considered indubitably authentic, and impossible to confuse with any other hand.

This ship portrait, datable on internal evidence to about 1710, was regarded by Michael Robinson as a key to Monamy's early years. Its authenticity is only supported by signature, but some late provenance is known.

At left is what was once thought the earliest indisputably authentic painting by Monamy. Location, theme and signature are right, but the date is in doubt.

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The Doggett's Coat & Badge winner, and the later canvases ordered by date to the left, all appear to me authentic Monamy paintings, uniform in manner, and in their relative lack of sophistication. In particular, they seem to be by a painter who had not been formally schooled in the geometrics of linear perspective. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, they have character, impact and integrity of expression, which many today might consider the qualities of a genuine artist.

Their authenticity, in all instances, is supported either by location, signature, sometimes with date, or print corroboration. They span a period of about 35 years, but show little real change or development of style or skill, and this is puzzling. It is noticeable that only about two of them show any directly detectable indications of Dutch or van de Velde influence.

These are the Painter's Hall picture of 1726, and the easel painting in the conversation piece, of about 1729. I was amazed to hear, very recently, that the two paintings in the background of the Hamilton/Monamy piece had been described as "Dutch" in a scholar's learned thesis, or other study. As I have long believed that these pictures are the essence of Monamy's contribution to the rise of the English School, this revelation was rather astonishing.

How are the much more refined and acceptably "artistic" works, which I place in the middle years, 1720-1740, to be accounted for? Are these "artistically eclipsed" products, to the left, from the basic hand of the sign-painter? "No man forgets his trade", opined the great Dr Johnson, speaking of Shakespeare.

If so, he must have had two, or more, co-adjutors, and the prime candidates are Charles Brooking, from about 1738 to 1746, and Francis Swaine, from about 1740 until Monamy's death in 1749, when Swaine must have taken over the remains of the studio. There appear to have been others, earlier, as there are one or two groups of other distinctively mannered canvases, either signed with his name, or attributed to him. One of these temporary assistants was probably Johan van der Hagen.

I have yet to find much literature on precisely how an early 18th century commercial painting trade manufactory operated, but some fairly straightforward assumptions come to mind. Young boys, aged 12 upwards, with a natural interest in marine painting, would be taken on, perhaps often part-time, to assist and learn the business. If they progressed to painting their own works, these would be signed by the owner and released on the market as his. It is in the nature of gifted apprentices, in time, to outdo their masters and Brooking fits the bill. Swaine would have been a slower starter.

  Moonlight, and The Burning Ship, however, exemplified at their best below, must be allowed to have been the work exclusively of Monamy, from the very beginning of his entry "into reputation". Not much of van de Velde in these. Their influence lasted for 150 years.  

"his neatness and clean pencilling of sky
and water by many was much esteemd .."

Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to digress a little in order to comment on the recently imputed "Dutchness" of Moonlight and the Burning Ship. Of course, like the paintings of the Dutch, they are made of canvas squares covered with multi-coloured oil paints, applied with a brush. Do their themes then originate in the work of the mighty van de Veldes? Listed among the three to four thousand paintings catalogued by Michael Robinson, not all of which are admitted by him to issue from the van de Velde hand, there is one, or perhaps even two, burning ships. I don't think there is a single moonlight piece, but I may be wrong. Moonlight marines by other artists, pre- and post-Monamy, are discussed here.

Gottfried Schalken, of course, was the great exponent of the internally lit painting, and he was Dutch, although he sounds German. Sheridan le Fanu made him notorious, and Walpole has some anecdotes about his lack of delicacy. What would we know without Walpole. There is an engraving by Boydell after a moonlight painting by van Bosman, dated 1753. Unfortunately, I don't know van Bosman's dates. Monamy's paintings are of course Dutch, in the same sense that Hogarth's paintings are Dutch, which is in the same way that Dutch paintings are not French, Spanish nor Italian. It is not interesting to look for Dutchness in early English marine painting, but English aesthetes can admit nothing else.


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