Early C18th Marine Painting
and the emergence of the English School

Part Three: Virtuosi & Walpole

With the accession of George II in 1727, the political climate changed. Sir Robert Walpole consolidated his power, and there were equivalent changes in the climate of taste in the arts. Below is a Conversation of Virtuosi, painted c 1734-5 by Gawen Hamilton. In a Tate exhibition catalogue from 1987 it is commented that Hogarth is notable for his absence from this group. While it would be wrong to call this assembly untalented, it exudes the atmosphere of a collectively faceless committee. These are the self-appointed members of a second-rank board bent on cladding English brickwork with imported marble. They are hollow men, leaning together, and planning to bring "improvement" to native independent art and individuality.

When George in pudding-time came o'er
And moderate men looked big, sir,
My principles I chang'd once more,
And so became a Whig, sir.

The Vicar of Bray, published 1734

The catalogue note remarks that the group contained several Tory sympathisers and Catholics. The Vicar of Bray verses have a long history, but the publication date of the version containing the above lines is significant. The Revolution Whigs of 1689 and 1714, like the pigs in Animal Farm, were turning into a different breed: the Great Whig Landlords. Foremost among these was Walpole, and his family. His Excise Bill of 1733, and other policies adopted by him, had the effect of creating an ever-growing and more determined Opposition. Something of the odium he inspired is illustrated by the caricatures below.

Left: The English Colossus, G.Bickham 1740.       Right: Idol-Worship, or the Way to Preferment

"That infamous Minister of State"
"That Monster"; "That Vile Corruptor"
"Untill there is in that House a majority of members that will think and act contrary to that Monster, farewell to our once glorious Constitution"

From the Diary of Squire William Bulkeley of Brynddu, in Anglesey

In about 1733 there appeared another caricature, of anonymous authorship, shown below. This is reproduced in Iain Pears' seminal study The Discovery of Painting, 1680-1768, which "completely transforms one's conception" of these years in English painting.

The Painter submitting his Picture to the
Examination of Connoisseurs and Antiquarians

Anonymous print, 1733.
From I.Pears, The Discovery of Painting, p.141

The connoisseurs are here presented as beasts: a monkey, a donkey, a dog and a bear, and what looks like a crocodile but is probably a boar. I can no longer separate this 1733 print in my mind from the Walker and Monamy conversation piece of about 1732, and draw my own conclusions from comparison of the two images. The similarities can surely not be merely coincidental.

In light of the above it is worth taking a closer look at the expression on Monamy's face in the conversation painting, as he gazes, or glares, at his presumed patron, or (possibly) potential customer.

Following these, and other circumstances in the very early 1730s, it is my belief that Monamy began to lose his market share of the carriage trade at precisely this time. The above painting indicates one probable direction in which his art now began to develop. It is indistinctly dated 1732, and is a very close variant, in reverse, of the easel painting in the conversation piece. The novelty lies in the concentrated attention given to the visual representation of sunlight. Monamy's legacy to English painting is examined in Part 4. 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

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