part three: decline

Monamy's fiftieth year was to be a turning-point in his career. From 1731 onwards his fortunes, his health and his output indicate a slow but inexorable falling away from the pinnacle of the 1720s. This process was resisted and countered by every means at his disposal, and throughout the 18 years which remained to him his commitment to English painting and the social values and national hopes of the city and country of his birth never wavered. From about the mid-1720s until the end of his life, and beyond, there was a mounting proliferation of mezzotint prints and line engravings after Monamy's works, a witness to their wide appeal in a new and growing market. These reproductions, the beginnings of popular art, were to be exploited to their fullest extent, and with the same aims, by William Hogarth.

Old Entrance to Vauxhall Gardens

In 1736 the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall were re-opened. The theme of the gardens was conceived to be a reflection of the creations and recreations of English life, and a statement of the nation's heritage in peace and war, its pleasures and aspirations. The new owners commissioned the most popular and prominent English artists of the day to provide the decorations. These included Peter Monamy, then aged 55, William Hogarth, 39, and a younger man, Francis Hayman, 28. Scott's work was not represented. For the pavilions and boxes at Vauxhall Peter painted at least four notable pictures. These were A Sea Engagement betwen the English and Algerine Pirates; Sweet William's Farewell to Black Eyed Susan, an illustration of a song by John Gay of Beggar's Opera fame; The Capture of the San Joseph, a Spanish Ship, 1739; and Admiral Vernon's Capture of Porto Bello, 1739. The news of this action --- "He took Porto Bello with Six Men of War Only!" --- brought British patriotism to the boil. Philip Durell (probably the younger of the two men with this name) was with Vernon at Porto Bello, and drew a plan of the port which he took with him on his return to London, and which Monamy later used to portray the strategy of the attack. All four works were reproduced in contemporary engravings.

In 1740 the elder Philippe's brother, Captain Thomas Durell of the Kent, fought an historic action with the Princesa of the Spanish navy, one of the largest ships afloat. There are at least five versions of Monamy's painting of the engagement, one of which hangs in the National Maritime Museum. A contemporary ballad records the details, making up in gusto, and exaggeration, what it lacks in rhythm and metre:

Then up ran the Kent with Captain Durell bold:
We gave them a good broadside like jolly hearts of gold.
Yard-arm to yard-arm for hours there we lay;
With great guns, small arms, cutlasses,
                                        we made a bloody fray.
Dead men in numbers lay about;
                                        our scuppers filled with blood,
Which made the seas around us seem like a purple flood.
Broadside for broadside nine hours did we fight.

A portrait of Thomas Durell shows him with one hand missing. He wrote a letter to his sister, Lady de Carteret, describing the action and relating that "I received a small hurt by a Splinter in my left hand, not worth mentioning, as 'tis almost well again". The ballad differs:

    Three fingers from one hand brave Captain Durell lost,
    But yet he was not daunted.

This work was also engraved, as shown here, in reverse.

In September of this year, 1740, Lieutenant Philip Saumarez set off with Admiral Anson on what was to become his epic circumnavigation. But these heady early days of the War of Jenkins' Ear, as it was known, very quickly started to turn sour; and perhaps especially for Peter Monamy, now approaching 60. The capture of Porto Bello was the first incident of this war. Writing in 1828, J.T.Smith recalled that No. 20, St Martin's Lane, was a public house called The Porto Bello, and that it had a portrait of Admiral Vernon's ship, "extremely well painted by Peter Monamy, 'the famous Marine-painter', for its sign". Vernon was the hero of the nation at this time, but he went on to make a complete fiasco of his next objective, the capture of Carthagena. The elder Philippe Durell died of plague at Carthagena late in 1740. His brother, Thomas Durell, though undaunted by his wound, must have suffered more than he pretended, for he died off Spithead in 1741, while the Kent was being repaired. [Note, 20/2/05: this Captain Thomas Durell is not to be confused with his nephew, also Captain Thomas Durell, who did not die until 15th May, 1754.]

These deaths must have had their effect on Monamy. With the marine painter Samuel Scott, 20 years his junior, at his heels, he must have begun to feel, as Vertue puts it, that "he had run thro' his Time about 60 years of age being decayd and Infirm some years before his death". He was, however, to survive for another eight. In 1745/6 a series of ten engravings by Pierre Canot after a selection of his earlier paintings was brought out by the print-seller John Bowles. The prints divide naturally into two groups, the first illustrating the times of the day, and the second exploring the moods of the sea. The last of these shows the loss of the Victory near the race of Alderney, in 1744, in which Admiral Sir John Balchen and 1000 seaman lost their lives. The set includes Moonlight and Night & a Ship on Fire, motifs which originate almost exclusively from Monamy, and which were to be repeated well into the next century.

Night & a Ship on Fire: coloured print after pm       Peace: Burial at Sea, by jmwt

In 1745 Peter and Hannah's youngest daughter, Ann, married a young local man called Thomas Cornwall. The marriage is recorded on St Valentine's Day at St George's Chapel, Mayfair. This was a fashionable establishment for the performance of marriage ceremonies without licence, publication of banns or consent of parents. Their son was baptised at St Margaret's, Westminster, in 1747. He was named Peter Monamy Cornwall, and one may suppose that this would have pleased the aging painter. This boy became a scholar of Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, entered holy orders and died at Wootton-under-Edge in 1828, having been headmaster of the Grammar School there for forty years. In 1782, and again in 1783, the Reverend Peter Monamy Cornwall published the text of a sermon preached in 1781 at St.James's, Bristol. Among the subscribers were Lord Bulkeley and Lord Hawke. Late in life he took to calling himself Peter Monamy Durell Cornwall; and it is through him that the memory of the artist's name, and that of the Durells, has been preserved to inspire the research that has culminated in this account.

Monamy's death, says Vertue, "happened at his house at Westminster the beginning of Feb 1748/9 --- leaving many paintings begun and unfinished. his works being done for dealers at moderate prices --- kept him but in indifferent circumstances to his end". He was buried at St Margaret's Church on the 7th February. Less than five months later, on 29th June, Mary Monamy, Peter's other surviving daughter, married Francis Swaine at Allhallows, London Wall. Their second child, a boy, was born in 1754 and named Monamy Swaine. Both Francis and Monamy Swaine were marine artists; and it is likely that Francis in fact inherited Monamy's unfinished works via Mary. In 1750 Francis Swaine brought out a print which has an identical composition to Monamy's print of Night & a Ship on Fire, but in which every detail has been changed. This must be connected with posthumous disputes about the copyright on engravings after the dead artist.

This wonderfully lively painting of a Royal Yacht in a strong breeze was brought out as one of a set of four stamps by the Jersey Post Office in 1974, when Monamy was still thought to have been born in Jersey. In about 1980 it was shown and discussed on a BBC television programme devoted to philately, and described as an unusually attractive issue. The presenter remarked that the picture was by "a Flemish artist".

Peter Monamy has the right to be known as the undisputed father of British marine painting. His artistic range is immensely wide, rich and varied. In many respects the specifically English and Romantic elements in his work, and especially his use of colour, anticipate Turner in a way that the work of the van de Veldes does not. For years during his lifetime his name was practically synonymous with the Royal Navy. But his half-century of toil at the painter's craft, as apprentice, freeman, master and has-been, came to a painfully sad end. The backlash against the concept of naval glory, which he had expressed so well, continued on into the 18th century. Smollet had some hard words to say about the horrors of life at sea. Dr Johnson, ever aware of the vanity of human wishes, was to remark in 1759 that "no man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail". He might have had Peter's father, Pierre, in mind. In 1761 the Committee of the Incorporated Society of Artists twice voted ten guineas to Hannah Monamy, from the proceeds of their first exhibition at Spring Gardens. In the chair was Francis Hayman, who had worked with Peter at Vauxhall, 25 years before.

There is one particular painting which seems to sum up all that is best and most poignant about Peter Monamy's life, loyalties, and treatment by posterity. Philip Saumarez returned with Anson, having survived the hardships of circling the world in the Centurion, on 15th June 1744. He had earned a considerable fortune in prize money. In October 1746 he was appointed Captain of the Nottingham, and on the 11th of that month he fell in with the Mars, a French ship somewhat superior in guns and men, and captured her. This prize added to his fortune. In 1747 the Nottingham was prominent in an action under Admiral Hawke, whereby Captain Saumarez attempted to prevent the escape of two French ships of superior force. He was killed by one of the last shots fired in this engagement, to the grief of many. Hawke speaks in his report of "the melancholy account of Captain Saumarez being killed". Admiral Keppel wrote to Lord Anson, "poor Saumarez died like what he was, alongside the Tonnant, much regretted by the whole squadron. I need say no more of him, as your Lordship knew him so well". His body was brought home by his cousin, Philip, later Vice-Admiral Durell, and buried in Plymouth. A monument was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey. With the money his efforts had earned him, his brother John was enabled to buy back Sausmarez Manor, the ancestral home of the de Sausmarez family in Guernsey, which had been out of their hands since 1543.

Peter Monamy was himself dying, decayed and infirm as we have seen. However, he painted a picture of Captain Saumarez' fight with the Mars, and this painting hangs in Sausmarez Manor today. It is one of the few works which has remained undisturbed since it was painted, and also the only one to find its natural Channel Island home. It may attract little notice from those visitors to the Manor, who pass it by on their sightseeing trips. Another painting of this action now hangs in our National Maritime Museum. This is an expansive canvas, well-finished and painted by a steady hand. Although it lacks the sense of doom and foreboding which emanates from Monamy's version, and the feeling of having been painted from beyond the grave, in most other respects it is identical. This version is by Samuel Scott, "one whose works will charm in every age", wrote Horace Walpole, "but second to van de Velde".

The original publication of this article was entirely due to the interest and patient encouragement of Mrs Joan Stevens, of La Société Jersiaise, whose kindness, generosity, and spirit of scholarly integrity allowed me to deprive Jersey of their only Old Master. The discovery that Monamy had been born in London was a result of searching through the microfiche records of the Mormon Church in 1978, but when I later made contact with a curator at the NMM I learnt that his baptismal record had almost simultaneously been found by one of their staff. General awareness that he was a native Londoner, and not a Jerseyman, was therefore inevitable. Worse, however, was that I would show that his father hailed from Guernsey. Mrs Stevens was a person of rare distinction, and I was honoured to be known to her as "mon ami". The text has been silently corrected to take account of later research and revised opinion, and some of the original footnotes have been incorporated within it. The style has been tinkered with.

January 2008: For a comprehensive update of Monamy genealogy, with many additional details, and differing in several ways from earlier accounts, see new page. Click.

article 1981: part 1       article 1981: part 2
article 1983
artistic range
title page


© Charles Harrison Wallace 2001, 2008
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