à bout de souffle
Page Eighteen Plus

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

"Forgeries are more real than the real art they fake." Jonathon Keats, page 25.


Focus on Francis Swaine
swaine one; two; three; four

Pirates Abound

click for a van de velde
The picture's value is the painter's name
Originals and copies much the same

Pirates Around

Unsigned. 40 x 50½. Catalogued 2012.

This painting and its attendant catalogue entry invite comment.

First, the biography: the writer has gone to town on Swaine's biography in a big way, and freely lets his, or her, imagination run riot. Though there is precedent. It's a literary luxury. It would not be easy to cram a greater number of inaccurate assertions into such a short note. "When a thing is asserted as a fact, always ask who first reported it, and what means he had of knowing the truth." James Spedding, 1808 - 1881. Check the research elsewhere on this site.

Francis Swaine, the well-known marine painter, was not baptised at St Botolph's-without-Aldgate on 22 June 1719. This would, in any case, have been exceedingly curious, had he been born in c 1715. The simple truth, however, is that he was baptised on 7th October, 1725, shortly after his birth, like nearly all infants in those days, at St Dunstan's, Stepney. His parents' names were Francis Swaine, and Ann Joel. The indications from the first half of the C18th are that several members, though not all, of the Swaine family were parishioners of St Dunstan's in Stepney. The painter's siblings, and his two children with Mary Monamy, Anna Maria Swaine and Monamy Swaine, were baptised at St Dunstan's.

Francis Swaiine, the painter's eponymous father, whose baptism was registered on April 4, 1691, at St Bride's, Fleet Street, served as a Navy Messenger for twenty years, from 1735 until his death in 1755. His death is recorded on 11 October 1755 in the Catalogue of the National Archives, Navy Board: Out-letters ADM 354/151/167, when he was Head Messenger to the Office. A marriage allegation dated 1714 documents his intention to marry Ann Joel, which describes him in that year as a bachelor aged about 24 years.

It is also documented, in his own words, March 5, 1734 (i.e. 1735 new style), that this elder Francis Swaine, the marine painter's father, had been involved with "little Labours in Drawing". He gave his occupation in the birth register of his youngest daughter in 1736 as "painter", although when registering the births of four previous children he had described himself as "gent". The 1735 document, ADM 106/875/84, records his application to become a Navy Messenger, and it states that he had served in the Navy in various capacities for "upwards of twenty-eight years". He would evidently have joined the Navy in about 1706, aged 14 or 15. What must be his will is recorded as an online document, PROB 11/824, and dated 1756. Francis Swaine, his son, the marine painter, obviously never worked as a messenger for the Navy Office (unless he helped his father a bit when a boy), but began his gainful life as Peter Monamy's pupil, and was Monamy's "disciple and bred under him". See Mark Noble's Biographical History of England, 1806, under the entry for Monamy.

Second, the painting. The first question that comes to mind, on looking at this canvas, is why would a painter, whether born in 1715, 1719 or 1725, paint a maritime scene incorporating a flag which was discontinued in 1707 ? Is it pretending to be a picture from an earlier age ? If it is by the Francis Swaine who was born in 1725, did he paint it in 1745, when he was 20 years old ? In 1740, when he was 15 ? If so, why on earth would he ? Does it matter who painted it ?

Every opinion expressed on the manner, style, colouring, and "technical ability", as well as the alleged "influences" discoverable in this performance, has to be seriously challenged. The style of neither Monamy, nor Swaine, was particularly derived from van de Velde. Monamy, relatively late, for a short period, and Swaine, no influence at all. Brooking copied more from van de Velde than either Monamy or Swaine, but his style was still very distinctive. Brooking had no influence whatsoever on Swaine, who was virtually his exact contemporary. On the other hand, Swaine was very seriously influenced by Monamy, who was old enough to be his grandfather. This influence is especially evident from several authentic canvases, as well as notably from a number of prints. Swaine's earliest prints are developed directly from a set of ten or twelve prints after Monamy, which were issued in 1745/46, three or four years before the "decayed" old painter died. The V and A is currently (2015) claiming on its website that "there is an unfounded tradition that Swaine worked in Monamy's studio". It's a pity the V and A hasn't the faintest notion what it's talking about . See Mark Noble's Biographical History of England, 1806, under the entry for Monamy,. See the mention by Sir George Young

Here is the same painting, 30 years earlier. It has apparently grown a couple of inches in both directions, in the interim. Back in 1982 it was only attributed to Francis Swaine. The attribution has been firmed up on, and it is a little surprising that it hasn't also grown a signature, but I suppose the acknowledgement of its previous appearance makes that difficult to achieve. Although the discovery of an "unsuspected" signature has been accomplished elsewhere. Give it time.

The painting looks rather more convincing in black and white. Its unsubtle colouring is not in such bright and garish evidence. If asked, I would say that this picture was the product of a pasticheur, practising at some time between, say 1770 and 1870, and imagining he was performing in the manner of Peter Monamy. For a very long time it was believed that Monamy could have been born as early as 1670. This work could conceivably have purported to have been painted prior to 1707, when Monamy might have been thought to be as old as, say, 35. The right half of the picture is reminiscent of a painting by Monamy; the left half reminiscent of a ship portrait by Brooking. There is nothing to say that the location is the Downs, but it might as well be there as anywhere else. It's not an incompetent picture. Nice market rise over 30 years from estimated £2,000 - £3,000 to estimated £30,000 - £50,000.


To the left is a genuine, copper-bottomed painting by Swaine. The Monmouth captures the Foudroyant, 1758. Notice the typically pink tinge to the sky. Of course, a painter's manner develops over time.

Lord Macaulay's comment in 1833 on Lord Orford is so wonderful, it simply has to be re-quoted: " .... as the pâté-de-foie-gras owes its excellence to the diseases of the wretched animal which furnishes it, and would be good for nothing if it were not made of livers preternaturally swollen, so none but an unhealthy and disorganised mind could have produced such literary luxuries as the works of Walpole." Horace's tribe of acolytes is similarly swollen. Toxic is the word

Authenticity ? What's that got to do with the art market ?

next page
previous page: fakes & fakers

yacht & hoy flank views

chronology & authenticity
these pages need substantial revision

monamy website index

Originals & copies, much the same.
The picture's value is the painter's name.


F.M.Brotherhood ?

Bears Brooking signature ?

Incorrect measurements ?


Die Fälschung unterscheidet sich vom Original dadurch, dass sie echter aussieht. Ernst Bloch

"Most pictures are accepted as being by Raphael, or Titian, or Rembrandt because experts say they are. Very few pictures have solid documentary evidence behind them. So, if some reputable bunch weighs in with an opinion, then it's taken seriously ...... You know how easily impressed some people are. So, museums eventually relabel their pictures. Happily if a work is upgraded, with much gnashing of teeth if it's downgraded."
Iain Pears, The Titian Committee, 1991, Chapter 7.           

Conversely, disreputable bunches (if there are any in today's museums --- perish the thought) weigh in with any old opinion. When it comes to marine painting, the reputable bunch in the Britain of today is exceedingly small.

From Fake ? The Art of Deception; published 1990, edited by Mark Jones, page 130: "The New York Customs, for example, have listed in their files the import into the United States between 1909 and 1951 of the stupendous number of 9,428 works by Rembrandt." It is very likely that most of these Rembrandts were collected by Citizen Kane, in order to replace his Rosebud. The actual number of genuine Rembrandts is today estimated at between 300 - 600.


left, sunrise 21 june 1748

monamy unsigned: outward bound

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2015
all rights reserved

A Reading & Watching List

Welles, Orson
Jones, Mark [ed]
Hebborn, Eric
Hebborn, Eric
Hoving, Thomas
Lopez, Jonathan
Perenyi, Ken
Keats, Jonathon
F for Fake
FAKE? The Art of Deception
Drawn to Trouble
The Art Forger's Handbook
False Impressions: Hunt for Big-time Art Fakes
The Man Who Made Vermeers: Han van Meegeren
Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger
Forged: why fakes are the great art of our age

Here's a fascinating clip:     Eric Hebborn, 1934 – 1996, lives again! Free lessons on youtube mean no-one these days need be without a full-blown, copper-bottomed, genuine leather masterpiece in their very own personal home, whether up-, down-, or middle-market.