à bout de souffle

"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth." Albert Einstein, 1901
Page Thirty-Six

Scanned from The London Gazetteer, 9th February 1749

An Eye-Stretching Account
It makes one gasp and stretch one's eyes

Walpole Hits Home

January 2016. After reading a short biography of Peter Monamy, published recently in German, I finally realised the bitterness of life. Was this the end result of my 35 years of rigorous and devoted research into Monamy's life and works ? For a short moment, that thought was so dreadful it almost extinguished all hope.

The text begins with the accurate, though curiously misplaced, observation that "Monamy was the father-in-law of the marine painter Francis Swaine [married Monamy's daughter 1749] and the grandfather of the marine painter Monamy Swaine."

From then on it descends into a garbled farrago, stitched together from a variety of sources, unco-ordinated, uncritically examined and not infrequently contradictory, but conscientiously listed, as below. The next sentence, following the statement that Monamy was the father-in-law of Francis Swaine (a relationship he did not live to see) reads thus: "M. der aus einfachen Verhältnisse stammte, ging 1696 in London in die Lehre als Anstreicher unter William Clarke, Lehrherr der Painter-Stainers Company; nach seiner Lehre (Freisprechung 1.3.1704) war er für and. Meister Geselle tätig."

No better evidence could be found of Horace Walpole's remarkable ability to "poison the minds of posterity" (in John Wilson Croker's memorable words) than that profoundly misleading sentence.

Monamy's grandfather, during the Cromwellian Interregnum, had been one of the Governors and Magistrates of staunchly anti-Catholic Guernsey. The principal occupation of Guernseymen was, during war, privateering, and during peacetime, smuggling. Monamy's father had been, despite a brief custodial interlude, a singularly successful smuggler. The enterprise had a politico-economic sub-agenda. His mother was the daughter of a former Master of the Gunmaker's Guild. These circumstances are neither "simple" nor "humble".

The description of William Clarke as a Lehrherr is perhaps not entirely wrong, though it might have been more appropriate to record him as a sometime Meister vom Stuhl of the Painter-Stainer's Guild. The idea that Monamy spent his seven years apprenticeship training as an Anstreicher is little short of hilarious. The writer would have benefited by consulting Alan Borg's excellent History of the Worshipful Company of Painters, 2005, page 53, where it is amusingly related that when the Company ordered the "beautifying" of Painters' Hall in 1630 it relied on workmen from "outside the Company". Painter-Stainers were not Anstreicher.

There is no evidence at all, and very little likelihood, that Monamy spent the first two or three years of his freedom working for other masters. This was a conjecture of mine in 1981, before I discovered that William Clarke had died shortly before Monamy received his freedom. It now seems more than likely that Monamy carried on his late master's business on London Bridge.

An inexplicable misreading is that Peter Monamy's Tante Marie married a Captain Philip Durell, when in fact she married a Maurice Perchard, in 1670. This resembles one of the errors in the ODNB, where Francis Swaine gets two sons, not one.

At left is a list of the sources trawled by the German author. I am familiar with all but one of them: in fact I wrote three of them myself, although I am only credited once. In any case the significant points I made, after diligent research, are largely ignored. Several of these sources are of negligible worth. Some interesting mentions, such as that by W.H.Pyne, are not included.

The one new name was that of Dorothy Brewington. Her contribution is given below.

The foreword relates that this very comprehensive dictionary, listing 3,074 marine painters, is the work of a husband and wife team, Marion and Dorothy Brewington, over some 20 years. The husband died before it was finished. It was published by the Peabody Museum of Salem, and the Mystic Seaport Museum.

From Dictionary of Marine Artists, 1982, by D.E.R.Brewington.

Almost every assertion in this brief biographical note is wrong. Monamy was not born 1670 in Jersey. He was not apprenticed to a house-painter. He was obviously not "self-taught", but had been indubitably well-instructed by his Master, whose business he appears to have inherited. He was not especially influenced by van de Velde, but was an essentially expressionistic painter, drawing on an eclectic range of influences. He did, however, die in London in 1749.

Brewington does nevertheless have one or two interesting things to say about other British marine painters.

Francis Swaine: "Pupil of Peter Monamy" Correct ! "Copied van de Veldes" Wrong !
Robert Woodcock: "Caught trying to pass his work as van de Velde's." Unique observation !
Charles Brooking: "Probably self-taught". Wrong ! "Employed at Deptford as ship painter". Huh ?
Isaac Sailmaker: "Thought to be the first British-born marine artist". Really ? "First curator of the Royal Collections". Impossible ! Well, we all nod.
Dominic Serres: "When Brooking died, took over his business". Never knew that.
Samuel Scott: "Pupil of van de Velde". When the Younger died, Scott was 5 years old. Precocious pupil.

Perhaps when Brewington writes "pupil" she means "follower". Although Swaine was in fact Monamy's pupil.

In order to get to grips with the skewed and distorted nature of British Art History it is necessary to understand two threads that underlie all aspects of British life. Possibly since the days of Henry VIII, or certainly since Queen Elizabeth I, the division has been between Cavaliers and Roundheads. Sounds anachronistic, I know. Cavaliers were said by Sellars and Yeatman to be Wrong but Wromantic, and Roundheads Right but Repulsive. I think of the first as treacherous, sleazy, totalitarian, secretive and corrupt, Roman Catholic or crypto-Catholic; and the second as courageous, independent, upright, ethical and Protestant. The first group sucked up to the Stuarts, the second revered the Tudors.

The Walpole family, the C18th's verdict on Robert Walpole, and Liverpool, Croker and Macaulay on Horace Walpole, bear consideration. The Walpoles were dyed-in-the-wool Stuart-adoring Roman Catholics. The family included six [SIX] Jesuits, and one consecrated Roman Catholic martyr saint. Premier Minister Robert Walpole's grandfather, Edward Walpole, ardently supported Charles II for restoration and became a Knight of the Bath. Robert opportunistically professed whiggery, but by 1734 he was recognised as the original Vicar of Bray, dedicated to his own advancement. Horace, the art arbiter, was his devotedly loyal son.

Horace Walpole's influence on English art historians is immeasurable, disastrous and pernicious. There is the "Walpole Society" in England, and the "Lewis-Walpole Library" in America. At the beginning of the 19th century various people had seen through him. These included Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, Lord Macaulay, and John Wilson Croker, in spite of the strong animosity between Croker and Macaulay. Croker, a great friend of the Duke of Wellington, was secretary to the Admiralty for more than twenty years. He was of the opinion that Horace Walpole had "poisoned the minds of posterity". Walpole's favourite, Samuel Scott, was not well regarded in the mid-19th century. However, towards the end of the 19th century, Walpole became re-habilitated in the minds of art historians. The damage that he did to Monamy's reputation was substantial. Walpole allegedly based his account on the notes of George Vertue. Although Vertue was a Roman Catholic, and a committed supporter of the Stuart dynasty, and although there are mistakes in his account, he does not seem to be blatantly derogatory. He wrote a total of 326 words on Monamy's life and work. These were compressed into 110 words by Horace Walpole, and they are very subtly chosen words. Poisonous, in effect. By the end of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th, their poison was working.

"There are some curious men who form an idea of a master, by the sight of three or four of his pictures; and who, after this, believe they have a sufficient authority to decide what his manner is; without considering what care the Painter took about them, and what age he was of when he drew them. ..... There is none also that had not his beginning, his progress, and his end; that is to say, three manners."

Roger de Piles, The Art of Painting, Chap XXVIII, part II. Translated from the French and first published in England in 1706.

A closely contemporaneous North British equivalent of Monamy is provided by James Norie 1684–1757. The Norie family ran the most successful decorative painting business in Scotland during the eighteenth century.

last page
quite a different page
page 29

Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent; doutez de tout, mais ne doutez pas de vous-même. André Gide

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

Horace Walpole poisoned the minds of posterity
John Wilson Croker, 1780-1857, Secretary to the Admiralty 1809-1830.
chronology & authenticity
british painting 1660-1815
monamy website index

"Every great advance ….. has involved the absolute rejection of authority."
"My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations."

Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit
lasciate ogni speranza

follow your nose

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016
all rights reserved