à bout de souffle

Page Two

Who painted this picture ?
Click here for one opinion --- received by some, perhaps, but certainly not by me.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Below is information provided by the Museum in 2011.

"Unsigned. Currently attributed to Peter Monamy. 48 x 59
Credit Line Gift of William P. Clyde, 1960
According to the donor, the picture was bought by his father from Sir George Donaldson. At that time it was attributed to William van de Velde, the Younger. In 1973 the attribution and title were changed on the recommendation of M. S. Robinson, Keeper of Pictures at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The coat of arms (sic) seems to be that in use after 1714 [see Ref. Robinson 1990, vol. 1, p. 551, ill.].

"! This information may change as the result of ongoing research !"

Above is the most honest art-historical statement anywhere to be seen. If only others would match its integrity.
Does it appear as a result of the splendidly constructive influence of the admirable Mr Hoving? Possibly not.
20 July 2013: it has to be noted that this magnanimous announcement now seems to have been removed.
For anyone who values truth, this is an unbearably sad development. Eppur si muove.

click for ant crew
A correspondent has amusingly pointed out that the rigging of both these vessels appears to be infested with ants:

the sailors are even smaller than the midgets on Scott's timber bark.

If these two paintings aren't by the same hand, say 1715-1725, I'd be gobsmacked.

2 July, 2013. I'd be gobsmacked --- if it wasn't that I'm right. This site, click here, has tried to smack my gob.
The "McDonald Monamy" was very definitely not signed in 1970. See here. And here.
What is to be done ? In the cause of truth ?

Some Gentle History

NMM. Signed and dated R.Woodcock. 1715
30 x 25. "Unfinished".

In 1725 George Vertue, followed by Walpole, noted that Woodcock had copied about 40 paintings of van de Velde in the space of two years. Robinson nonetheless virtually ignored Woodcock in his massive study of the van de Veldes, and was instead obsessed with the idea not only that Monamy was the author of most of those works which he judged to be copies, but that Monamy had also worked as a "journeyman" in the van de Velde workshop.

Although "none but an unhealthy and disorganised mind could have produced such literary luxuries as the works of Walpole" [see here], the influence of his faint praise was profound and prolonged. Via the recklessly creative fiction of Harry Parker, uncritically endorsed by Geoffrey Callender, and echoed more moderately by M.W.Knott (Robinson's father), the influence of Walpole filtered down to Michael Robinson himself, and is still detectable elsewhere in the feeble reiterations of auctioneers and dealers, and the unhealthy writings of others.

Left: the painting by Woodcock, 1690-1728, from which the detail above left is taken.

The painting is a fairly close copy of van de Velde's Royal Sovereign of 1703. In recent years Woodcock's life and works have been unusually well researched by Neate and Lasocki, whose findings were published in 1988, too late for Robinson to have become properly aware of this multi-talented man. For Woodcock, see here

A catalogue entry for the unsigned painting in the New York Metropolitan Museum notes that it was "formerly assigned to Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707)" but "reattributed in 1973 to Peter Monamy, known for his marine paintings, who may have been associated with the Van de Velde studio." The catalogue further explains that "The attribution to Monamy, suggested in 1963, was reaffirmed several times by M. S. Robinson, formerly Curator of Paintings at the National Maritime Museum".

The supposition that Monamy "may have been associated with the van de Velde studio", for which there is not a shred of evidence, originates exclusively with Michael Robinson. It was not even adduced by Parker, and is not once suggested by earlier critics. The very first hint of the idea was not until 1866, when Richard Redgrave, Surveyor of Her Majesty's Pictures and Art Director of the South Kensington Museum, mentioned that Monamy "if not their pupil, was an imitator" of the van de Veldes. Redgrave was himself clutching at straws. It is quite obvious that had Monamy been in any real sense a pupil of the Younger van de Velde, any such studentship would have been noted long before 1866. It is also obvious that Redgrave had a strictly limited appreciation of marine painting in general, and of the wide range of works ascribed to Monamy. Vertue had also merely remarked that Monamy was influenced by "other famous masters of paintings in this manner --- VandeVelds &c".

The details provided on-line about this painting by the New York museum are remarkably frank and admirably informative. It was apparently sold for $20,000 by Sir George Donaldson, of Hove, to William P.Clyde some time before 1925, and then offered at auction after Clyde's death in 1931, on November 12, as British Frigate Firing a Broadside, by Willem van de Velde the Younger. It was bought in for $3,000, and then owned by his son, also William P.Clyde, of Washington DC, from 1931 to 1960, who gave it to the museum. From February 15, 1967, to February 15, 1968, it was exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum, still as by Willem van de Velde the Younger.

It really should have been plain to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of English maritime history that this painting could not possibly have been by Willem van de Velde the Younger. Long before 1925, and for over two centuries, it was common knowledge that he died in 1707. The ship is flying on her stern a red ensign incorporating the Union flag, which was not adopted until the year of the painter's death, and the flag at the main is the Hanoverian royal standard, which was not adopted until after the accession of King George I in 1714.

An insight into the character and business dealings of Sir George Donaldson, 1845-1925, is provided by a news item in the New York Times, dated November 7, 1912. It reports how he lost a suit where he had been judged guilty of failing to pay an associate a $27,000 commission in picture deals. The newspaper article also relates that Donaldson had bought a Turner for $30,000, and sold it to an ex-Senator W.A.Clark for $75,000, as well as a Jan van Goyen bought for $2,000 and sold for $25,000, also to the American ex-Senator. It is unlikely that Sir George Donaldson, described as the "well-known connoisseur", the "Bond Street antique dealer" and "V & A benefactor", was unaware that the painting sold to W.P.Clyde could not have been by the Younger van de Velde.

The Metropolitan Museum records three letters from M.S.Robinson concerning this painting. In the first, 1963, he "suggests an attribution to either Peter Monamy or Thomas (sic) Woodcock". In 1964 he "favours an attribution to Monamy". By 1971 he simply refers to the painting as "Monamy's composition", and relates it to van de Velde's "signed and dated painting of 1703 showing the ship Royal Sovereign". He ignores, or has forgotten, that Woodcock (whether Thomas, Robert, or, as another picture in the NMM has it, Richd.) "openly professed the art" of copying van de Velde, produced at least 40 examples, and probably many more.

In about 1982, at a meeting with Michael Robinson and Richard Kingzett of Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, where the authorship of the Metropolitan painting was discussed, I put to them that it was not by Monamy, and suggested that it might perhaps be by Scott. This thought was unacceptable to Kingzett, who had compiled a catalogue of the works of Scott, published by the Walpole Society in 1980-82. Thirty years later it now appears that Kingzett wrote a letter in 1983 to the Metropolitan, where he "firmly rejects the proposed attribution to Scott and thinks it likely that the picture is indeed by Monamy." He may have been right about it not being by Scott, but had few grounds for thinking it by Monamy, other than his deference to Robinson's unsubstantiated opinion.

23 x 39 . Unsigned. Attributed to Monamy
McDonald collection, 1970. By 2000 allegedly signed P.Monamy

8 x 12. Unsigned. Attributed to Francis Swaine
Oil on panel. Sotheby's 29 May, 2002. Lot 13

In his last letter Robinson also noted another painting: "The McDonald picture shows the same ship (he) suggests the ship was painted from a model, and perhaps was inspired by the putting to sea of the Britannia in 1734". The "McDonald picture" appeared in a collection exhibited by Leggatt Brothers, 16 October - 6 November 1970. The painting is shown at left.

A note by Robin Gibson, who edited the catalogue, states: "I am indebted to the staff of the National Maritime Museum for information about the ship and the other version of the picture".

The "other version" was owned by a Major McCalmont, see Robinson, Vol 2, p 636, where he suggests that this painting, and similar others, "are probably by Cornelis van de Velde carrying on the studio of the Younger after the latter's death in April 1707."

The McDonald painting was clearly unsigned in 1970, and when auctioned in 1992, but has since been said to be embellished with the signature of Peter Monamy.

At left is a little painting on panel, obviously related to the one above. Swaine seems an improbable author.

Signatures, in the commercial art world, have a tendency to follow attributions.

The attributions of the two paintings above right lack any solid foundation, and Michael Robinson had no "means of knowing the truth". The attribution to Monamy of either one of them, because the other one is already attributed to Monamy, is positively comical in its tautological contortion. These two pictures do, however, seem to be by the same hand, and closely resemble the painting signed Woodcock. Walpole says that Woodcock started copying van de Velde in 1723, but if this painting is correctly dated 1715, it means that he started at least eight years earlier. Dying in 1728, at a rate of, say, 10 pictures a year, he could have painted anything up to 100 copies.

The Metropolitan website also cites M. S. Robinson's Van de Velde: A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde. Greenwich, 1990, vol. 2, pp. 600-601, no. 584 [4], p. 636, no. 541/5, ill.; and notes that he mentions that their picture relates "in many details to a mezzotint advertised for subscription beginning probably in 1725 which is inscribed "W. Van De Veld pinxt. E. Kirkall fecit" (British Museum, 1868 1-11-440)." As this mezzotint, which is not in fact one of the prints advertised for subscription in 1725, is not illustrated by Robinson, it is shown below, in reverse, for purposes of comparison.

W.Vanderveld pinxt./E.Kirkall Fecit. Inscription trimmed away, but pasted to verso:
To the "Honourable Sr Thomas Lowther Bart." The BM number of this print is actually 1868, 0711.440

The composition of this work is broadly similar. However, the stern decorations of the ships are obviously very dissimilar, and the other minor differences between the two works are numerous. One of the recent comments made about the painting donated by W.P.Clyde to the Metropolitan is that "the orderly repetition of the rowers" and "their identical silhouettes --- practically a Monamy trademark --- show a certain lack of imagination." This is the equivalent of other "trademark" signs of his supposed works. One critic detects a "typical Monamy 'edge' to the white clouds" in his skies. Though less inanely disparaging, this observation is equally useful, especially as the pictures being appraised are almost certainly not by Monamy. Otherwise, following Parker's ludicrous fantasy in 1911, uninformed disparagement of Monamy's manner proliferates in nearly all comment for the next 70 years, most especially in the blithe chatterings of E.K.Chatterton.

And who painted the picture below ? Francis Swaine, perhaps ? Or someone with an alias ?

30 x 48. Evidently unsigned. Ascribed to Cornelius van de Velde. Christie's 31 Oct 2007. Who'd a thought it ?

Is this "the other version", once belonging to Major V. McCalmont? No, it can't be.
John Desmond Cavendish Brownlow was the 5th Baron Lurgan (19111991).
With his death the title became extinct.
NB: Cornelis van de Velde was baptized on 16 May 1674, in Holland.
His date of death has recently been established by Remmelt Daalder as 1714.

Sometimes signatures are significant.

Attributed to Peter Monamy in 1973. Attributed to Cornelius van de Velde in 2015
Quite possibly by the Younger Willem van de Velde.

From the Monamy & Walker conversation piece c 1730-33
About as authentic an unsigned painting by Monamy as could be found.
If it isn't by Gawen Hamilton.

"Scholars belong to guilds held together by common opinions, attitudes, and methods. As a rule, innovation is welcome only when it is confined to surface details and does not modify the structure as a whole."
Cyrus H.Gordon, 1982

"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.

"Mediocre minds cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices,
but honestly uses his intelligence."
Albert Einstein: unemployable amateur mathematician

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for more fascinating items from the portfolio of curiosities
last page

chronology & authenticity
brooking: early years
brooking & monamy: fire       brooking & monamy: light
brooking & monamy: storms      brooking & monamy: various
monamy & brooking & van de velde: a squadron beating to windward
monamy & brooking & ireland?
monamy moonlight oils
a century of moonlight
monamy website index

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