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à bout de souffle

Page Four

Who painted this picture?

34 x 41. Signed P.Monamy Auctioned 24 November 2010

Firmly attributed to Leemans. Unsigned. Auctioned 11 August 1994. Bonhams. See below, in black & white.

31 x 46. Unsigned. Attributed to Monamy
Auctioned 29 July 2003

30¼ x 41. Unsigned. Attributed to Monamy.
Auctioned Sotheby 31 March 1999

Signed T.Leemans. See Cockett, p 108.

72 x 95 probably = 28¼ x 37½. Nat Gal Ireland

Earnest inspection of those paintings irrefutably known to be by Monamy, along with all those prints produced during his lifetime and credited to him, makes it abundantly plain that the pictures above and to the left are certainly not the products of his hand.

One of the greatest contributions to marine art scholarship made by F.B.Cockett can be found on pp 108-109 of his Peter Monamy & His Circle, 2000. He there summarises the oeuvre of a painter known as T.Leemans, and correctly describes this person as "enigmatic". Cockett remarks that "In a group of seventeen pictures seen by the author over the last twenty years only one was signed. All seventeen were flat calms and were fairly identical compositions --- stern view of a major ship, possibly a small 'hoy' beached in the foreground ... Nearly all his pictures appearing in salerooms are catalogued as 'Peter Monamy'. This is very detrimental to Monamy's reputation as they are really of rather a primitive type compared with the real Peter Monamy"

Mr Cockett is no doubt right about the fairly identical compositions attributable to the enigmatic Leemans, but he also concludes almost inescapably "that this artist may well have been one of Monamy's assistants for a short period". This is an escapable conclusion, imho.

At left is the rather unique work apparently bearing the signature of T.Leemans. Unfortunately neither the dimensions, nor the date of its appearance at auction, are given in Mr Cockett's book.

One of the unsigned paintings attributed to Leemans appeared in a Christie's sale on 18th November, 1982, and the catalogue note added that "for further information on the artist see E.H.H.Archibald, A Dictionary of Sea Painters, 1980, p 131." The inclusion of T.Leemans in this dictionary undoubtedly added confirmation and credibility to the painter's otherwise invisible existence.

At left is the earliest composition known to me of the fairly identical Leemans type, suggesting that the painter had been around at any rate since 1902, if the date is correct. Attributed to Monamy, of course.

Below is a set of six images similar to the above, with attributions culled from different sources. Images A and B are of the same painting, with changed attribution. C and F are also of the same painting, although the initials FS, for Francis Swaine, have enigmatically vanished between 2003 and 2008. During the years between 2000 and 2010 these pictures have tended to be sold --- or be offered --- for 4,000 - 8,000, depending on attribution. Bargains.

Before about the 1970s no painter named Leemans is recorded in art-historical annals anywhere in Britain. There is no discovered record of anyone, male or female, named Leemans having been born, married or died here during the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. There is no residential evidence of any kind, as there is for most other painters such as Monamy, Scott, Brooking and Swaine, and several Dutch painters, nor is there any vestige of an art auction record by anyone so named.

In a letter dated 30 January 2011 the following observations are made: "As I recall he [E.H.H.Archibald, aka "Teddy"] was very puzzled to know who the painter was who painted very well, but got the dimensions of mast height and yards wrong. Obviously not a sailor, but not so bad as Turner (150 years or so later), who got things even worse.

Then he came across the man's signature T.Leemans. I thought he was Thomas Leemans. He and others were competent painters, but without the seamanlike knowledge of Brooking. So far as 'non-sailors' were concerned, he made very nice marine studies.

Earlier Teddy and Michael Robinson had discovered for the first time the signature of Cornelis Van de Velde, which solved a few problems. We must realise that there were other unknown painters making Van de Veldes and Monamys! Your Simon de Blois may be one of them."

This account is interesting, but not too helpful. By "Simon de Blois", the writer means Simon Dubois.

At left is a more or less random selection of the fairly identical Leemans type of painting. These pictures might well, at the drop of a hat, be attributed, sometimes with added signatures, to Monamy or Swaine, or even Mellish, though rarely to Scott or Brooking. Scott would actually be the best candidate, but he hasn't been sufficiently well established in the role.

Should anyone give a damn, they might read Hebborn's 1991 autobiography, entitled Drawn to Trouble, especially the part where he creates a van de Velde from a blank canvas, pp 118-126

From Wikipedia: Claims have surfaced recently, alleging that art dealers and auction houses have been overly eager, by accepting forgeries as genuine, and selling them quickly, to turn a profit. If a dealer finds the work is a forgery, he may quietly withdraw the piece and return it to its previous owner --- giving the forger an opportunity to sell it elsewhere. Some forgers have created false paper trails relating to a piece, in order to make the work appear genuine.

British art dealer John Drewe created false documents of provenance for works forged by his partner John Myatt, and even inserted pictures of forgeries into the archives of prominent art institutions. Experts and institutions may also be reluctant to admit their own fallibility. Art historian Thomas Hoving estimated that various types of forged art comprise up to 40% of the art market.

A few more words of wisdom from Mr Cockett; verbum sapienti sat est, as the ancient saw has it. He notes that: "What sets [Leemans' paintings] apart ... is the extremely harsh palette. The sky is very blue, the stern of the ship is rather wider than it should be and is highlighted in pure gold, which makes it stand out of the picture. The masts and sails are usually much too big for the ship (excessive top hamper) and the whole composition looks theatrical, painted in harsh bright colours. ... In spite of all these remarks, his pictures usually do quite well in the saleroom and surprisingly high prices are sometimes achieved. I think the reason for this is that they have a decorative, colourful and eye-catching quality on the wall which can appeal to a less sophisticated taste."     Right: detail from painting signed S.Scott, 1726.    

click for origin

Less sophisticated taste is right. Surprisingly high prices is right.

For more about the elusive Leemans, see here. Or here.


Dubois deserves an article to himself. This must do pro tem.

May 2016. The time has come for a page on Dubois. Click.

"..... a scholarly myth can spread 'like a computer virus' until it becomes accepted historical fact."
Helen Morales, TLS, May 15, 2009, p 11

All truth passes through three stages. 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident.
Arthur Schopenhauer

"Truth sits upon the lips of dying men"
Matthew Arnold. 1853. Debatable. We're all dying, but how many of us speak the truth?

WHAT is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.
Where on earth does that come from ?

Above and below: two paintings scanned from Charles Brooking, by David Joel

See top of page, in colour.

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Another Leemans from somewhere. Try here.

leemans the enigma
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