"Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.
A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing,
either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals."
George Orwell, first published in the TLS, 1972
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 the Art of Painting, 1706.
Monamy's three ages and manners
The time has come to join the ranks of the pontificators;
and so go on, from day to day, getting a little fatter.
As the years roll on, the nature and course of Monamy's role in the evolution of English painting grows ever clearer. At this point I get an uneasy feeling that what I am about to say I have already said elsewhere. But, since no-one was listening, it does no harm to repeat it; besides which, when I say it for a third time, in due course, its truth will be ensured.
The three ages, stages or sections of Monamy's painterly life divide into his beginning, his progress and his end, just like Roger de Piles said. To these must be added a fourth, proto-stage, his apprenticeship, 1696-1704, which pre-dates his beginning. Here's how Vertue introduced Monamy's apprenticeship to Walpole and the world: "Mr Peter Monamy painter of ships & sea prospects born in Jersey ----- came to London when young & being put to ordinary painting, but having an Early affection to drawing of ships and vessels of all kinds and the Imitations of other famous masters of paintings in this manner ---- VandeVelds &c by constant practice he distinguisht himself and came into reputation".
Vertue's overall statement contains more than its fair share of outright errors of age and location, but the words which have caused the most serious misunderstanding are "put to ordinary painting". These were understood by a German-speaking "art" historian to mean Anstreicher, ie house painter, which reminds me of the comic argument used for Hitler's superiority over Churchill as a painter. "Two coats, three coats, covering a whole house in one afternoon ! Now, there was a painter !" Co-incidentally, I discovered today, 25th February 2017, that the German version of Wikipedia has Monamy apprenticed to a book-binder: 1696, mit 15 Jahren, geht er bei einem Buchbinder für sieben Jahre in die Lehre. Mind-boggling. Presumably this fantastic inanity will in time be corrected, along with the mountain of other ludicrous misinformation in this German version.
For what "ordinary painting" implied in the first half of the C18th, it's worth inspecting the works of Monamy's exact contemporary, the Scottish "house-painter", ie decorator, James Norie, 1684 - 1757.
Three prospects by James Norie: progress from "ordinary painter" to emulator (?) of continental landscapes.
Were continental painters not emulators of their predecessors ?
Here is a sentence, p 96, from Empire of the Seas, 2009, by Brian Lavery, Curator Emeritus, NMM, Greenwich. "Peter Monamy from Jersey started by copying the van de Veldes". Mind-boggling. Especially for it to occur in a year as late as 2009. Monamy's London birth and Guernsey ancestry were established in 1980. It grows clearer by the hour that Monamy was minimally dependent on the van de Veldes until after about 1725, in the wake of Kirkall's success with his green mezzotints, and then only intermittently. There are dozens of paintings attributable to him, at all stages in his career, which have no connection in any way with the work of the van de Veldes.
The NMM is the place to go for information on ship architecture, naval traditions, ceremonials and battle tactics, but with respect to marine painting, C18th practices and politics, and concepts of rival theories and the evolution of aesthetics, its minions and ex-minions have not the faintest idea. This is especially true of two contributors to a volume about sea painting, published as recently as 2016. The first of these has less than a nodding acqaintance with marine painting, having only been employed by the NMM for a relatively short period. The other was employed there longer, but appears to have done exceedingly little research into the works of the painters he discusses, and he mis-copies the statements of those authors he has actually looked at. One of his most profound misinterpretations relates to the marketing slogan regrettably adopted by Monamy: "Second only to VandeVelde". He seems to be following in the vein of Harry Parker, most of whose 1911 article is fantastic rubbish. It is possible that his interpretation is due to a limited command of the English language, since "second to" does not mean "following on from", but "only inferior to." The implication is more one of social and public status than of artistic succession. The van de Veldes were appointees of King Charles II. Monamy, by contrast, was more the painter belonging to the Navy and the people. This is stressed by Vertue, when he says Monamy was especially esteemed by "sea faring people officers & others marchants &c." These groups did not include the curious connoisseurs approved of by Horace Walpole.
Monamy's three ages divide as follows:
His beginning: 1704-1727. Twenty-three years
His progress: 1728-1740. Twelve years.
His end: 1741-1749. Eight years.
Give or take a couple of years, at the joins of each stage.
At this point it's worth taking a look at the pages devoted to the chronology of Monamy's works.
Norie, Pinchbeck, Fawkes
Some useful reading
2005. The History of the Worshipful Company of Painters, by Alan Borg
2011. Vauxhall Gardens, A History, by David Coke & Alan Borg
2016. Van de Velde & Son, Marine Painters, 1640-1707, by Remmelt Daalder