à bout de souffle

Page Twenty-Four


Little people shedding light on picture authenticity and authorship

Every now and then an unusually perceptive and generous correspondent writes in with an intriguing contribution.
Click here for one which arrived in January 2013, from Mr Ray Joel Peek, about Francis Swaine.
Here, below, is another which arrived on July 14, 2013.

click for complete picture
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Unsigned.
Attributed to Robert Woodcock by discerning art observers.

"I've been spending an agreeable hour or so working my way through some more of your webpages. Looking at this page , it suddenly struck me that the figures in the rigging look quite out of scale.

My initial reaction to a picture in my possession was that the waving figures in the rigging were actually rather over-size, but I've now established that the second Royal Caroline, which probably wasn't too different in size from the first, had a mainmast which stood about 75 to 80 feet above the deck. At that rate, the figures in my picture scale to about 5 feet tall, which is fair enough. The MMA picture (detail left) is of a larger ship, but I don't believe a main mast over, say, 120 feet high is plausible at the date depicted. Even with a mast that height, the figures in the MMA picture scale to between 3ft 4 and 4 feet tall --- surely a crew of midgets!

Might this be some help in spotting paintings by the same hand? Looking through works by a few other artists that depict men aloft, I find that van de Velde the Elder (not surprisingly) shows sailors who look perfectly in proportion, while Pierre Ozanne makes the same mistake as the MMA artist --- his sailors look more like ants than people. The NMM painting signed Woodcock has diminutive sailors similar to the MMA painting, while their Monamy East Indiaman, which I believe you rate as genuine, has a crew who seem in scale with the ship.

I'd say that an artist who can get it right once has no reason to get it wrong another time - but maybe these speculations are complete nonsense, in which case feel quite free to ignore them.

Best wishes,"

Enlightened Correspondent
(Name protected.)

click to go back
Three typical paintings by Robert Woodcock. In my humble opinion. "Be right and persist."
"Woodcock of a gentleman's family ... in two years copied above forty pictures of Vandevelde ... he openly professed the art ..." Walpole's Anecdotes.

click for scott
"There is no obvious explanation for the small scale of the figures on board the bark"

See The Great Age of Sail, 1986, by Kemp & Ormond, plate 31

55 x 45, signed & dated, ll, "Scott 17(5?)3". Shipping in a Choppy Sea: Yale Center.
This subject in Scott's oeuvre is virtually unique. Painted about 20 years after Monamy's original, below.
Do my eyes deceive me, or has the crew shrunk here as well ?

39 x 33. Signed P.Monamy. NMM. Image reversed. The website note to this painting is mostly misinformation.
The picture was obviously produced at least ten years after 1720: it was obviously never part of a larger work.
This crew seems to be reasonably correctly scaled.

"When we are confronted with the expression of the mind of someone long dead,
embodied in a work of art, [in] the process of coming to understand it .....
we have to develop a technique of questioning, asking questions which arise out of the work itself."
Helen Gardner, The Business of Criticism, 1959.

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© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2013
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