Early C18th Marine Painting
and the emergence of the English School

Part Two: Sea Trade & Sea Power

The history of the British Isles, from ages immemorial, has been inextricably connected with sea trade and sea power. This fact has seldom been appreciated more acutely than by the Londoner of the early C18th. The Whig Revolution had been sea-borne. The instructive verses below come from Bickham's Universal Penman, begun in 1733. The sheet from which these verses are taken is dated 1736. The sentiments they express are absolutely standard for their time and place, and would have seeped into the consciousness of every apprentice penman for many subsequent decades. They cannot be described as politically correct in today's terminology.

Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world
commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.

Sir Walter Raleigh; executed on 29th October, 1618, by order of James I, the first Stuart king.

Here is Monamy's illustration of sea trade --- an East India Company merchantman. Its date is uncertain, but judging by the style I suspect it was executed in about 1731, at the height of Monamy's success. In composition and design it owes virtually nothing to any previous marine painter, and in its theme, conception, execution, perspective and expression of vigour and enterprise is completely original. As a work of graphic art it is far in advance of anything being produced by any other English painter, in any genre excepting portraiture, at this time. It is unnoticed in any scholarly tome of English or any other art history.

Here is Monamy's expression of sea power. I would date this to about 1729, although for the last 70 years it has, in my view, been ludicrously mis-titled The Visit of the Queen of Portugal 1708. The small boat astern of the capital ship is inscribed GR, indicating it must, at the very earliest, post-date the Hanoverian accession in 1714.

English maritime and commercial resurgence during the 1720s was totally aligned with the social implications of the Hanoverian accession, and the middle-class Londoner's consequent sense of political freedom. The above painting celebrates this constitutional revolution. It is currently in Buckingham Palace, and in 1818 was in Kensington Palace. It may represent the arrival of George I in 1714, although I tend to think it was executed about 1727-29, and is connected with the accession of his son, George II, in 1727.

In about 1721, or possibly earlier --- certainly before 1723 --- Monamy moved his practice from London Bridge to the heart of Westminster, specifically Fish Yard, marked above. In 1722, it is reported, there were more naval members of parliament than at any time before or since. One of the newly elected members was a Captain Edward Vernon. At his death in 1749 Monamy was resident in a house "next to King Henry's Chapel", and my guess, based on Westminster records, is that he moved there in about 1730, although this is very conjectural.

About five or six years after the peak of his prominence, however, we find Monamy joining with Hogarth and Hayman in providing some of the decorative supper-box paintings for Vauxhall Gardens. The originals are lost, but above is a coloured engraving of one of them. This is an illustration of Gay's immensely popular ballad, Sweet William's Farewell, repeatedly re-published. I link the painting with the 1737 edition of the song.

Although this kind of work provided a welcome outlet for Monamy's indefatigable industry, it has to indicate something of a decline in his fortunes. A suggested explanation for this change in his standing is put forward in Part 3. Click on link below.

part one: painter and patron
part two: sea trade & sea power
part three: virtuosi & walpole
part four: monamy's legacy

post mortem

monamy website index

© Charles Harrison Wallace 2004, 2015
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