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from The London Gazetteer, 9th February 1749
Scanned directly from which publication, and posted to me by Mr Robert Cottrell, February 2015
An obituary curiously at odds with the remarkably disparaging NMM account below.

National Maritime Museum
Recent biography of Peter Monamy (2017)

"English marine painter, of Guernsey descent, born and active in London. He began as a decorative painter and was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers' Company in 1703 (actually 1704, NS) following a seven-year training under the house-painter (1) William Clarke. George Vertue (2) records that Monamy had a natural interest in painting shipping which he developed by observation and practice, and that he built up a considerable mercantile and Royal Naval clientele. He was a fluent follower (3) and occasional copyist (4) of Willem van de Velde the Younger (and had a collection (5) of his drawings) and modelled his battle scenes on paintings by earlier masters. His marine pieces depict real ships but rarely record specific events (6), possibly because until 1739 his career spanned a time of peace.

Among his imaginary scenes (7) is the painting 'French Ships in Action with Barbary Pirates' (National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). It was probably through his friend (8) William Hogarth that Monamy was commissioned (9) to decorate several of the supper-boxes at Vauxhall Gardens in London, with marine paintings (10) illustrating John Gay's patriotic ballad 'Sweet William's Farewell to Black Eyed Susan'. The paintings are lost but known from the engravings by Paul Fourdrinier. He also contributed a view of the fleet in the Downs (also lost) to the Foundling Hospital (11) . He lived much of his life in Westminster, close to some of his naval patrons (especially the Durell family of Jersey) and died there in 'indifferent' financial circumstances according to Vertue, from charging modest prices and working much for dealers (12) . His younger contemporaries, Brooking and Scott, both eclipsed (13) him artistically, the former dying a pauper however, the latter being much more successful ". (14)

Apart from the muddled inaccuracies in its account of the ascertainable facts of Monamy's life and works, the above NMM note appears to have been composed by an individual of outstanding art-historical illiteracy.

This person is strongly advised to acquire a better understanding of art by reading, for instance, The Invention of Art, 2001, by Larry Shiner, who provides an excellent guide to appreciating the unique place held by Peter Monamy, though unmentioned by name, in the development of this country's attitudes to art and aesthetics.

Introductory headings to the relevant passages in Shiner's account are scanned here at left. Of particular interest is section 6, The Artist, the Work, and the Market..

Before taking a closer look at what Shiner has to say, it is necessary to tackle this depressing travesty of a biography mounted by the NMM, guardian of our naval heritage.

(1) If Monamy was apprenticed as a decorator, why is his master described as a "house-painter" ? William Clarke had been Master of the Painter-Stainers Company, and when the Painter-Stainers wanted their house simply painted they contracted the work out to suitable Anstreicher from outside their own ranks. The term house-painter, though common, conveys a misleading impression. See Patrick Baty. Or try this.

(2) George Vertue was a confirmed Roman Catholic. Objective, to a degree, but nevertheless obviously a believer that true art was inspired, patronised and promoted by the Roman church. Hence his assertion that Monamy was employed in "ordinary painting". Compare Horace Walpole's evasive and ambiguous argument deployed in Aedes Walpolianae. Vertue was selectively followed by Horace Walpole, whose ancestry included 6 Jesuits, one of whom was a martyred saint. His father, Robert Walpole, Lord Orford, was the original opportunistic Vicar of Bray. Monamy was a dedicated anti-Catholic, by virtue of his heritage, and a dedicated opponent of the Walpoles.

(3) Fluent follower ? Remarkably few of Monamy's paintings "follow" van de Velde, fluently or otherwise. Many of his panoramas, storm, moonlight, firelight, cartographic battle and other scenes, show no influence of van de Velde at all. He did refer to a decorative work by van de Velde, at Ham House, for a battle scene depicting an engagement that had taken place before he was born. There are two or three other paintings which give a nod to van de Velde.

(4) Occasional copyist ? If there is one obvious Monamy copy of a van de Velde, I should like to see it. Robert Woodcock, however, made 40 copies of van de Velde in two years, according to Horace Walpole. Woodcock was a gentleman's son, however. Horace scrupulously avoids any mention of van de Velde in connection with Monamy..

(5) Over a year after his death, Monamy's possessions were advertised for auction in the General Advertiser, 26th July, 1750. See here, and scroll down. Mention of drawings by "William Vandevelde, Sen & Jnr" would be designed to attract buyers, no doubt especially Samuel Scott, who had an exceptionally vast collection of such drawings at his death. Some of these may actually have been by Monamy, misattributed to van de Velde.

(6) Engagements recorded by Monamy, taking place during his lifetime, include the following: Battle of La Hogue 1692, Capture of Gibraltar 1704, Battle of Malaga 1704, Relief of Barcelona 1706, Bombardment of Alicante 1706, Blockade of Dunkirk 1708, Battle of Cape Passaro 1718, Relief of Gibraltar 1727; and all the major engagements during the War of Jenkins' Ear, 1739 onwards. The twenty-one years 1718-1739 were indeed relatively peaceful.

(7) If this painting really is by Monamy it would be an extraordinary subject for him to choose, since he would have no interest in recording the exploits of the French, sworn enemies of the English. But is the main vessel French ? It can be examined here. It is extremely odd for attention to be drawn to this unsigned, undated, messy painting, out of the hundreds of others available, which are far more representative.

(8) There is little evidence that Hogarth was a particular friend of Monamy, who is more likely to have had considerably more in common with Hogarth's father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill, a fellow Painter-Stainer.

(9) The question of who originally thought of, or commissioned, these paintings is unresolved.

(10) Sweet William's Farewell is only one of the four known paintings by Monamy decorating Vauxhall Gardens. It is quite misleading to describe Gay's ballad as "patriotic", rather than sentimental. The three other paintings by Monamy are more obviously patriotic, depicting English battle triumphs.

(11) There is very considerable confusion in Foundling Hospital accounts of the paintings by Monamy and Brooking. It is contended here that Brooking's painting, still hanging in the Hospital, is The English Fleet in the Downs, and that Monamy's painting was a major ship portrait, now missing, intended to be of interest and benefit to the foundlings.

(12) For the role of the dealer, see The Artist, the Work and the Market, below.

(13) Eclipsed ? Was Verrochio eclipsed by Leonardo, 1452 - 1519 ? Was Leonardo eclipsed by Michelangelo, 1475 - 1564 ? Were either of them eclipsed by Rembrandt ? Brooking did not come into any kind of reputation until six years after Monamy's death. Any comparison of his life and work with Monamy's 45 years as a painter is completely pointless. Monamy anticipates Turner; Brooking builds on van de Velde.

(14) Here is a verdict on Samuel Scott from A Century of Painters of the English School by Richard Redgrave CB RA (sometime Surveyor of Her Majesty's Pictures and Art Director of the South Kensington Museum), co-authored with Samuel Redgrave. The 1866 edition, Vol I, contains the following, p.91:

"Samuel Scott (B. 1710, D. 1772), was another artist of the Vandevelde school, whom Walpole calls 'the first painter of his age --- one whose works will charm in every age;' adding, 'if he was second to Vandevelde in sea-pieces, he excelled him in variety'. He was indeed a good draftsman, and painted some tolerable topographical views, as well as marine pieces, but his works do not show any original treatment; they are now little known or esteemed, and he is remembered chiefly as one of Hogarth's companions, in his jovial water-party to Gravesend, in 1732." See here. Scott's success was primarily due to his cultivation of the Walpoles: his works did not attract the public, receive naval appreciation or popular reproduction as prints or engravings.

In 1937 Sir George Young, 3rd Bart, published a book titled Poor Fred, the People's Prince.
This entertaining, gossipy account provides exceptional insight into the London years of 1729-1751.
An understanding of the politics of these years is crucial to an appreciation of Peter Monamy, the London Painter.

See here for gravely mistaken assertion by the V&A
monamy website index
site introduction

   

   


     

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