Peter Monamy



Apart from a fleeting mention, possibly by Smollett, in the Critical Review of March 5th, 1758, almost nothing that appeared in print about Peter Monamy before 1981 was of any critical merit, accuracy, comprehension or interest. I except the anecdotal and incidental information supplied by W.H.Pyne in 1823 and J.T.Smith in 1828, and one or two perceptive and original comments by writers such as Marcel Brion, who mentions "the sensitive and agitated seascapes of Peter Monamy" in the Larousse Encyclopedia of Renaissance & Baroque Art, 1964. Oliver Warner, in British Marine Painting, 1948, and Fighting Sail, 1979, shows some discernment. John Wood, in an article entitled Seascapes Worthy of Greater Fame, which appeared in Country Life, 28th May 1959, took the trouble to respect the works, but both he and Warner are still overwhelmed by the body of misleading literature. There is some factual detail, minimal but valuable, in Treasures of the Foundling Hospital, by Benedict Nicolson, OUP 1972, and William and John Linnell, by Hayward & Kirkham, Studio Vista/Christie's 1980, and in one or two other publications. But otherwise, all "professional" academic literature purporting directly to address the Monamy oeuvre, and to offer some critical or art-historical guidance, consists of tired remarks, almost entirely recycled from earlier commentators, themselves dull, uninformed or prejudiced.

This website addresses the work of Peter Monamy by standing traditional English art history on its head. It is based on the premise that it is of less interest to indicate the influences on an artist's oeuvre than to try to appreciate what is original, new and different about his paintings; in essence, what he brought to his art, rather than what use he made of the past. Discrimination is a matter of defining differences, not similarities. These pages present Monamy's life and works as they deserve to be remembered: not as the imitations of a Dutch genre which had passed its peak, but as original productions of tireless invention and resource, by a man who, with unceasing industry and fierce loyalty to his peers, almost single-handedly hauled English painting up from its native roots and pointed the way to the mastery of Turner. But I am biased, and those who discount the truth of what I say, for that reason, are welcome to ignore the evidence I shall produce before their eyes. The proliferating text is strictly work in progress, and subject to constant review, correction, and I hope improvement. The site is 100% non-profit, and the only gain sought is the small personal satisfaction of, in passing, arraigning a few successful crimes, and restoring credit where it is due.

Monamy's oeuvre, and the claim here made for him as the founder of the English School of Painting, will always remain unvalued and belittled by those who cannot recognize that his life and work, in the spirit of his time and place, represent unswerving commitment to the cause of

click for glory

an outmoded commodity, now reduced to matchbox proportions

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre
Rudyard Kipling 1897

click for sunset

patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
Samuel Johnson, 1775

One gets more real truth out of one avowed partisan
than out of a dozen of your sham impartialists -----
simpering honesty as they suppress documents.

Robert Louis Stevenson, letter to Mrs Churchill Babington, Summer 1871

Art history, as you probably know, is a nasty, vicious profession
Iain Pears, The Raphael Affair, 1990, Chap 2

A Conference Paper: January 2004
summarising the contents of this website, at that date

A Conference Paper: January 2005
Reputation & Reality

"Yesterday Evening was buried at St.Margaret's Westminster, Mr.Peter Monamy, greatly eminent for his Skill in Painting Sea Pieces; in which Art, as he was not equall'd by any of his Cotemporaries, neither was he excell'd by many of the Ancients; but his Name and Character are too well known and establish'd among the Curious to need any artful Commendation to set them in greater Light to advance his Merit; neither can the warmest Praise add to his Fame when dead, who, in his Life, was the greatest enemy to Adulation; and tho' some Notice is due to the Memory of so celebrated an Artist in Painting, yet his own Performances, which are extant in the World, will prove his most lasting Monument."

from The London Gazetteer, 9th February 1749

This news item, courtesy Mr Robert Cottrell, was not discovered until February 2015.

article by john wood, 1959
fantasy by harry parker, 1911
fantasy by m.w.knott, 1936
article 1981       article 1983
family background
artistic range
monamy website index
title page

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© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2001, 2015
all rights reserved
25th October 2001