Comment circa 1820. Click.


The Monmouth takes the Foudroyant, by Francis Swaine. NMM website

The colouring of this painting seems to resist accurate reproduction.


Third time luckier? From Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail, Bernard Ireland.


a popular picture

Swaine & van de Velde

The page posted by the NMM on this painting by Swaine has spurred me to some serious self-questioning. Why do I think this work isn't like the paintings of the van de Veldes? Why do I think Swaine hardly shows any influence of the van de Veldes? Why do I think Swaine is vastly more indebted to Monamy than van de Velde? Why is the NMM so keen to prove that English marine art derives wholly from the van de Veldes? We won't bother with the last of these.

Or perhaps we will. The NMM posted as follows: "Much of Swaine's early life and training remains unknown. In 1735 he was working as a Navy Office messenger but whether this involved any time spent at sea is uncertain. Soon after, Swaine rejected this employ in order to become a marine painter. A stylistic similarity between his work and that of the successful and prolific marine painter Peter Monamy (1681-1749) has prompted suggestions that Monamy may have been Swaine's teacher and the fact that he married Monamy's daughter tends to support this. Their son Monamy Swaine (active circa 1769-94) was also a marine painter. Swaine was also greatly influenced by the example of Dutch 17th-century masters, from whose work he regularly drew. For example, his painting of 'The yacht Royal Escape' is a version after a painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707; both in the National Maritime Museum, London)." See below.

Let's look at this passage. Let us surmise that Francis Swaine was baptised at St.Botolph's without Aldgate, London, on 22 Jun 1719. See here. His son, Monamy Swaine, is recorded as baptised at St Dunstan's, Stepney, on 27 Feb 1754. The parents, Francis and Mary, are named. I published this fact in the Monamy exhibition catalogue in 1983. It thus surprised me, a little, to read in the NMM's website biography of Monamy Swaine, twenty years later, that: "The first documented record of him is at the 1769 exhibition of the Free Society of Artists, in which he is described as 'Mr. Swaine Junior', giving rise to scholarly speculation that he might have been born in the early 1750s." My finding was factual and not speculative, so I am not a scholar. Well, I was only an exhibitioner.

If Francis was the Swain(e) born in 1719 he would have been 16 when he got a job as a Navy Office messenger lad. This would seem reasonable enough, in those times. The NMM doesn't care to supply any scholarly evidence for its categoric statement that: "Soon after, Swaine rejected this employ in order to become a marine painter", but perhaps someone has found a marine painting, signed Swaine and dated 1736. However, the idea that the Francis Swain(e) who was a Navy Office messenger is the same Francis Swaine who became a marine painter is open to very serious question. In fact, now, in 2013, it can be dismissed as utter rubbish. See here.

It may now have been discarded by the NMM, but will perhaps still be repeated in the ODNB, whose concern for biographical accuracy when it comes to C18th marine painters is virtually nil. Francis Swain, the Navy Messenger, had progressed to Head Messenger in the Navy Office by 1755, when he sadly died on, or shortly after, October 10th. His will was proved "at London the seventh day of August in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty six", and he left all his goods to his dear and loving wife Ann Swain, née Joel. The couple lived in Whitechapel. They were the parents of Francis Swaine, the marine painter, born 1725

Francis Swaine the marine painter was busily painting away through the 1760s and 1770s.

There is, naturally, no hard and fast evidence of Swaine's involvement in the world of maritime art until his marriage, 29th June 1749, at Allhallows, London Wall, to a possibly pregnant Mary Monamy, four months and three weeks after Peter Monamy's burial. See here. But the very strong probability is that Swaine took up painting some time in the decade before Monamy's death. Born in 1725, he very likely became an apprentice in the Monamy studio at age about 15, in, say, 1740. Admittedly, no letter has been found, stating "Dear Francis, I hereby appoint you my apprentice. (signed) Peter Monamy". He would not have appended any of his work with his own name when an assistant. When Monamy died, Swaine moved rapidly to assert his possession of the remains of the studio, the strongest evidence being his very prompt issue of a print of the Nottingham takes the Mars, in 1750 (see here); as well as his swift marriage to Mary Monamy.

Now to the painting. The NMM says that Swaine's "work was an interpretation of ideas made popular in England by Willem van de Velde the Younger's, but shows an informed knowledge of English shipping. The painting is signed but not dated." It can hardly be doubted that the painting was executed fairly soon after the event, although, of course, conceivable that it was not produced until many years later. If I knew the date of issue of the Gentleman's Magazine which included Cole's engraving, below, or the dates of the other engravings after Swaine's interpretation, a reasonably precise terminus could be established. By 1763 the Anson family evidently handed at least one of their marine commissions to Swaine. See here.


Monmouth defeats Foudroyant

Monmouth defeats Foudroyant

Monmouth defeats Foudroyant, detail

A Representation of the Engagement between his Majesty's ship the Monmouth Capt. Gardiner,
& the Foudroyant a French Man of War, on ye 28th of Febry 1758

Engraved for Gent. Mag.       B.Cole sculp.

The print in the Gentleman's Magazine appeared in April, 1760, page 164. It was a real surprise to learn that it had been engraved by Cole after a two year old, ie 1758, print after a painting by Richard Paton. This will take some further cogitation. Who copied whom? Press on, regardless.


The engraving after Paton; from Sea Fights and Adventures, by J Knox Laughton,1907

We finally get to the National Maritime Museum's assertions that in this particularly well-known painting Swaine's "work was an interpretation of ideas made popular in England by Willem van de Velde the Younger's"; and also that he was "greatly influenced by the example of Dutch 17th-century masters, from whose work he regularly drew. For example, his painting of 'The yacht Royal Escape' is a version after a painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger".

The only possible reaction to this is, that even if someone wanted a picture of the Royal Escape, copied by Swaine, about 80 years after the event, what was he supposed to do? Make it up? His only option was to "draw" on the work of a predecessor. General rules are not formulated on particular instances, nor does one swallow imply intoxication. Swaine's regular draught is presented on the next page: in my view he was a singularly faithful, even devoted, follower of Monamy for at least ten years after the older man's death. Perhaps his wife and mother-in-law kept him in line. Besides which, it is extremely unlikely that the copy is by Swaine.


The Royal Escape, 23¾ x 29¼, c 1675, signed W.V.Velde, NMM
Robinson, in Vol II, expresses doubts about Swaine's alleged authorship of the copy:
"No other such close copy of van de Velde by Swaine is known and it is possible
that this is an early work by Dominic Serres
." p.985

Or is it, perhaps, by G.Coleman ? ..... 1765 ?

On page 162 of Charles Brooking, 1723-1759
David Joel unreservedly ascribes a closely similar painting to Brooking.
This picture is now in the Royal Yacht Squadron.

Royal Escape: click here

Index in GM
plate index in gentleman's magazine, vol 30, 1760

go to second part

timeline 4: 1755 onwards       francis swaine
later battle prints after swaine
swaine & monamy, not van de velde
monamy website index
monamy print-based index
phlegmatic performances
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