à bout de souffle

Page Twenty-Three

Zwei Dinge sind unendlich, das Universum und die menschliche Dummheit,
aber bei dem Universum bin ich mir noch nicht ganz sicher.

Albert Einstein; amateur mathematician


"In a world of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
"From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned."
"Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper."
"The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history."

George Orwell, 1903 - 1950

V & A. 23 x 33. Signed in the lower, left corner, with the abbreviation 'F.S' and the 'S' has a looped flourish.

Comments on the V&A website: "This painting is based on a signed work by Peter Monamy in the National Maritime Museum (A Man-of-War Firing a Gun at Sundown, BHC1003). The main elements of the composition, with a two-deck, man-of-war on the right and a beached hoy, a type of coasting vessel, in the left-foreground, are broadly similar. There are however, subtle variations for example, in the rigging of the larger vessels, in the hoy with its surrounding figures and in the smaller barges and distant vessels of both works. When writing about a similar painting by Monamy in the Metropolitan Museum (Harbour Scene: An English Ship with Sails Loosened Firing a Gun, 60.94.2) Katharine Baetjer notes that this type of composition is typical of Monamy, as is the small barge with the orderly repetition of rowers pulling away from the ship's stern and the profile of the ship's stern silhouetted against plumes of smoke (Katharine Baetjer, British Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575-1875, 2009, pp.34-36).

The influence of Peter Monamy on Francis Swaine's style has been noted and has led to an unfounded tradition that the latter worked in Monamy's studio (see Stephen Deuchar, 'Francis Swaine', Oxford Art Online)."

Comments retrieved from Oxford Art (Grove) Online. Errors in red: "'Francis Swaine', (b c. 1720; d London, 1782). English painter and draughtsman. He worked as a messenger for a department of His Majesty's Navy in 1735 and seems to have been practising as a marine painter by the late 1740s, but there is little trace of his place in London's art world until his regular contributions from 1761 to the exhibitions of both the Free and Incorporated Societies of Artists. He was awarded the Society for the Encouragement of Arts' second prize for sea-pieces in 1764 and again in 1765. 'About the year 1770', reported Edwards, 'he painted the face of a wind-dial, with sea and ships, which he executed with a great neatness' (location unknown)."

Many biographical truths about Swaine were known well before the V & A posted this naïvely misleading account, apparently on the basis of Stephen Deuchar's scantily researched, poorly founded, and largely incorrect assertions in the Grove Dictionary of Art, OUP, 1996. It is also puzzling why the V & A draws attention to Katharine Baetjer's remarks about a quite different picture, which in any case is virtually certainly by Woodcock, and not by Monamy. The best guide to establishing the range and manner of Monamy's oeuvre is not by referencing works which are themselves of highly dubious authenticity, but by inspecting the prints after his paintings, published during his lifetime.

Here are a number of incontestable truths about Fancis Swaine:

1. In 1806 Swaine was described by Mark Noble in his Biographical History of England, thus: "Swaine, of Stretton Ground, Westminster, (Monamy's) disciple, and bred under him, was an excellent painter of moon-light pieces".
2. In the will of Sir Samuel Young (1766–1826), son of Admiral Sir George Young (1733–1821), Francis Swaine is explicitly referred to as “Old Swaine, pupil of Monami”.
3. Monamy was buried in Westminster on on 7 February 1749, and Swaine quickly married his daughter Mary at Allhallows, London Wall, on 29 June 1749. Their children were christened Anna Maria Swaine, on 27th Jan 1750/51; and Monamy Swaine, christened on 27th Feb 1753, both at St Dunstan’s church in Stepney. These life events are solidly backed up by church registers. The ODNB, although otherwise not quite as inaccurate as I once thought, since it mainly copies my 1981 article, (though out-of-date by 2004) incorrectly records the couple as having two sons.
4. Swaine's connection with St Dunstan's, Stepney, is supported by the baptismal register of a Francis Swaine at this church on 7 October, 1725; the son of Francis Swaine and Ann Joel. The elder Francis Swaine, 1691-1755, was employed as a Navy Messenger from 1735 until his death, and has repeatedly been confused with his son.

5. There are plenty of traces of Swaine's "place" in London's art world, well before his 1761 contributions to the exhibitions of the Free and Incorporated Societies of Artists. His major breakthrough painting was the Capture of the Foudroyant, probably painted in, or shortly after, 1758; but before that there are several engravings closely emulating earlier works by Monamy, dating from 1750 onwards. Some of these are inscribed with Monamy's and Swaine's names united. The most notable example, right, is the capture by the Nottingham of the Mars, 1748. The first issue of this print is dated 1750. Before 1749, as a young assistant in Monamy's studio, there would very obviously be no paintings signed with Swaine's own name.


More comments here on Nottingham v Mars. See also an exceptionally interesting painting, below, click here.

National Maritime Museum. Oil on canvas, 24½ x 30. signed 'P. Monamy' in the bottom left-hand corner.
A Man-of-War Firing a Gun at Sundown, BHC1003

Standard piffle from the NMM: "A two-decker third-rate coming to anchor, probably at the Nore. It has been depicted saluting the admiral whose flagship, which may be the Royal Sovereign, is visible in the background. The ship is flying the red ensign and the tricolour common pennant of 1661-1850. In the foreground to the left of the beached vessel is a trading hoy. A man stands on the shoreline holding a fishing net. Monamy, a self-taught artist, was influenced by van de Velde the Younger, and may have worked in his studio."

Why is this painting said to be at the Nore, rather than anywhere else ? Location drawn out of a hat ? Explain why it is "saluting the admiral". What is it that tells us the ship in the distance is the Royal Sovereign? What is meant by saying that "in the foreground to the left of the beached vessel is a trading hoy"? The hoy is clearly "beached", but I thought the vessel to its right was "coming to anchor". How do we know it is "coming to anchor" ? Is it, or is it not, "beached"? It doesn't look exactly "beached" to me. Agreed, there is definitely a man holding a fishing-net. Monamy was not self-taught, since he was taught by his Master, William Clarke, for a good seven years. Monamy was markedly less influenced by van de Velde than were Woodcock, Scott and Brooking. It is inconceivable that Monamy ever worked in the van de Velde studio, located either in Covent Garden or St James, after 1691, when William III kicked the family out of Greenwich. In 1691 Monamy was ten years old. In spite of their years in England the van de Veldes could hardly speak English.

Boxed staffage and indistinct inscription (?) enlarged below.



This picture carries every indication of being an early Swaine, painted shortly before Monamy's death. Particularly striking is the treatment of the sea, which is entirely typical of Swaine's work over a long period. His characteristic manner of representing the sea has even been noticed by a member of the NMM.

The painting should be compared with another of similar theme and date, also attributed to Monamy, but much more likely to be by Brooking. See here. The suggestion is that both Swaine and Brooking were connected, doubtless in different capacities, with the studio still managed by Monamy at the end of his life. Brooking had more natural talent, and facility for "correctness", than Swaine; but Swaine outlasted him.

Am I seeing things which are not there?

Reminiscent of another bunch of blokes in a centre foreground boat.

"...the styles of Scott and Peter Monamy, and ultimately of all the English marine artists of the eighteenth century,
were formed entirely on that of the Van de Veldes."

Whinney and Millar, The Oxford History of English Art: 1625-1714

"If you believe that, you will believe anything".

Duke of Wellington

Academics are, at heart, pretty miserable, resentful people.

"An administrator in a bureaucratic world is a man who can feel big by merging his nonentity in an abstraction.
A real person in touch with real things inspires terror in him."

Marshall McLuhan, June 22 1951

"the world of the pioneers ..... fraught with brief ecstasies and prolonged frustrations. Pioneers open fields and leave the refining ... to less inspired but more meticulous successors .... my sympathies are ... with the pioneers ... against their destructive critics."

Forgotten Scripts, p x, by Cyrus H.Gordon, 1982

"The mere prevalence of certain ideas can spread a kind of poison that makes one subject after another impossible".

George Orwell

“I had done all that I could, and no Man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.”

Samuel Johnson

More comparisons between Monamy & Swaine
England's Midget Navy
The Kaag at the V & A
earlier fakes page
previous page: percentage misattributions
monamy website index


© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2013, 2015
all rights reserved

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