"Most pictures are accepted as being by Raphael, or Titian, or Rembrandt because experts say they are. Very few pictures have solid documentary evidence behind them. So, if some reputable bunch weighs in with an opinion, then it's taken seriously ...... You know how easily impressed some people are. So, museums eventually relabel their pictures. Happily if a work is upgraded, with much gnashing of teeth if it's downgraded. I believe the catchword in America these days is de-attribution." Iain Pears, The Titian Committee, 1991, Chapter 7.


These pages are due for wholesale revision

3 September, 2013. Today seems as good a day as any for making a tentative start. Especially since the post has just brought me a copy of Sotheby's sale catalogue of the Collection of English Drawings formed by the late Sir Bruce Ingram, OBE, MC, FSA, now sold by order of the Executors. October 21st, 1964. Here is a scan of Lot 84, with catalogue comments.

The authenticity of the picture shown above is not doubted.


"Signatures don't mean much" --- M.S.Robinson, circa 1981-83

The earnest student, aficionado, collector or gentleman connoisseur, who would like to establish the rock-solid authenticity of any work said to be by Monamy, is in for a prolonged headache. Consider the two reproductions of a pen and wash sketch, below:

from Peter Monamy, by F.B.Cockett, 2000, p.79

Caption quote: "A small English man-o'-war proceeding down channel off Deal, the white cliffs in the distance. 8in x 12in. Not signed. Pen and wash. Ex Ingram Collection. Private Collection. This bold little drawing is related to a painting by Monamy in the Mellon Collection. It is interesting that even in this quick drawing the shape of the typical Monamy clouds is discernible."             2000

Caption quote: "A view of Deal from the Sea, South Foreland in the distance. This pen and wash drawing has a fresh and breezy quality which suggests that it was made on the spot. Pen and sepia ink and grey wash. Signed and inscribed on the reverse. Private collection."             1997

From Ships and Seascapes, by David Cordingly, 1997, p.81.

Puzzling? To the unsuspecting, this picture might seem to be a ship-portrait of the traditional kind, ie the same ship from two angles, dated on stylistic grounds perhaps to about 1750-60, or even later. It appears to be flying a pre-1707 ensign, which is of little significance in a sketch of this sort, since even if it were drawn by Monamy it is exceedingly unlikely that he drew it before 1707. Is it signed? Is it actually by Monamy, as stated in both sources? To be brutally frank, it bears no great resemblance to the admittedly rather few other known sketches by him.

This sketch appears to be the one expatiated upon at length by Michael Leek, in The Art of Nautical Illustration, p.46. It is not reproduced, but described as Monamy's "pen-and-wash sketch" which "exists in the National Maritime Museum: A View of Deal from the Sea, South Foreland in the Distance." My edition of this account is dated 2005, but it was first published in 1991. Perhaps the sketch was sold by the NMM between 1991 and 1997. Leek appears certain that the sketch is by Monamy, and assumes it depicts two different frigates. Both assumptions may be correct, but I would still favour the probability that it is intended as a portrait of one ship, and hazard that it could be by Brooking (say).

To the right is what many would consider an attractive marine calm. The composition is familiar from very many similar paintings, probably all ultimately deriving from a series of several paintings by the younger Willem van de Velde, of either the Britannia or the Royal Sovereign. See Michael Robinson, 1990, Vol 2, p.619. The composition was repeated, with infinite variation, by virtually all early 18th century English artists, notably Woodcock, and the puzzling Leemans, not to mention the Younger's son, Cornelius. Monamy's 1726 livery painting for Painter's Hall is in the same vein --- although appreciably different in application.

Neither the palette colours, brushwork, nor the ship proportions would suggest that this painting comes from the Monamy studio, yet it is signed P.Monamy. This does not necessarily mean that it is not "authentic"; only that caution is strongly recommended. A painting's intrinsic artistic quality is, of course, completely independent of its presumed creator, but many affluent collectors, of the less discriminating sort, would rather buy a nice signature than an authentic painting.

To the right are two paintings, with identical dimensions, 12 x 18, which were shown at the Mellon Collection Exhibition in 1963. The lower painting is signed P. Monamy. On subsequent closer inspection, however, the upper canvas was found to bear the signature C. Brooking, indistinctly, on a plank at left. Commander Joel remarks, in his supremely authoritative study Charles Brooking, 1723-1759, published 2000, that it is "inspired by a van de Velde". p.161.

One wonders if the two painters sometimes signed each other's work, or painted side by side in the Monamy studio, in tandem, so to speak. The Brooking, in its full glory, is shown below:


Men o' War: Approaching Storm. 11½ x 17½. Signed C.Brooking, indistinctly.

English Ships at Sea Running before a Gale; 12¾ x 20½, Robinson, p.1107

The above painting may well be the van de Velde that Joel is referring to as the inspiration for Brooking's picture. The height of the masts in both pictures has been exaggerated for effect, a tendency the Younger sometimes shows. There is little doubt that Brooking, after his first recorded works in 1740, was a decidedly closer follower of van de Velde than Monamy ever was. However, Brooking has a distinctive personal style, which is already very apparent in the two canvases produced when he was 17. These early paintings by Brooking, Moonlight and the Burning Ship, appear to follow Monamy, or, at least, to be absorbing some form of self-administered instruction in choice of theme, and it is not until later that he concentrates on learning from van de Velde.

While on the topic of inspiration, here, to the left, is another scan from the 1963 Mellon Exhibition catalogue. The catalogue comment notes that the canvas had the artist's initials on the back. This painting is included in Robinson's 91 page section on English Shipping in Gales, in his magnum opus, Vol 2, p.1122, no.70. He records that there is a photograph of the original signature, W.V.Velde J, but thinks that the work was mainly painted, in about 1700, by Johan van (der) Hagen, whose daughter probably married Cornelius van de Velde in 1699. In a Sotheby sale, 18 Nov 1980, it was attributed to W. van der Hagen. The real truth is clearly obscure. These van de Velde storm scenes seem, on the whole, to be late products, many done by assistants, reflecting the search for a wider market; merging, perhaps via Cornelius, with Monamy's work of the 1720s.

A pause for further thought here, before attempting to summarise the precise factors involved in determining the chronology and authenticity of the works. The problem of ascertaining which paintings are by whose hand sometimes seems insuperable; and is one of the reasons why a serious study of Monamy has never been contemplated by art historians. His has been a convenient name for dealers and auctioneers to ascribe to any 18th century marine canvas. Search the internet for auction records of "Monamy" paintings, a good half of which are listed as either "attributed" or described as "circle of" and "school of".

At least these terms indicate some sense of awareness among the auctioneers that discrimination is occasionally desirable. The deluge of dross attributed to Monamy over the past 150 years, has, however, muddied perception to such an extent, that it has become rather difficult to determine what the defining characteristics of his works truly are; and it has to be allowed that his oeuvre is uneven in the first place. So far not a single painting of his has been discovered with solid documentary evidence behind it, such as a letter of commissioning, or a receipt, or even an indisputable item in an inventory, beyond a vague description such as "sea-piece by Monamy". See the first ever auction catalogue of marine paintings, 1796, below. The architect of St Martin's Church, James Gibbs (1682-1754), Samuel Scott, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, all owned works by Monamy, as recorded in the sales and inventories of their effects at their deaths. See also here for Edward Walpole's ownership of marine paintings.

It is disconcerting that the attempt to arrange 25 or so paintings chronologically on the following four pages produces an overall impression of greater naïvety and unsophistication than the dozen or so best works attributed to Monamy. For those which have remained in their present locations since they were first painted, this may be explained by their relative unsaleability. In hard times owners may sell off their more moveable assets. Few of the pictures shown here present those paintings recognized as Monamy's best, although they provide sufficient information to suggest an outline of his changing style, interests and the market forces he was responding to. Needless to say, a painter's true achievement is only assessed by selecting his most interesting or significant works, but, at the same time, on the basis of what has been unearthed so far, I am sure there are a number of splendid-looking marine paintings signed Monamy which his brush never touched. These flashy-looking paintings conform to the impression of Monamy's oeuvre that has formed in the minds of connoisseurs, collectors, art historians and picture dealers during the last 200 years. They do not, however, convincingly conform to the styles of the indubitably authentic paintings.

The methodology adopted on this site, pace the AHRB, is to establish what is known and certain, form a credible hypothesis, discard errors, and then slowly unravel the soiled and tangled skein of misunderstanding, prejudice and misattribution.

After recording pictures which are as near authentic as can be ascertained, a secondary group consists of those which can be linked by subject, if not by documentation, to a particularly probable original owner, eg the yacht, right. It is also likely that stormy, uncomfortable, and less saleable scenes would be less prone to copying or faking. Conversely, tranquil calms and decorative breezes would be widely emulated by countless contemporary and later painters. Finally it should be possible to fill out the framework with an account of how Monamy transformed English applied decorative painting into drawing-room art.

Lord Townshend's Yacht. Unsigned
courtesy Mallett, London

Other factors which have to be taken into account are the distinctively colourful palette, which is very un-Dutch, and the zestful spirit of romance and adventure which inform what I consider the better and more representative canvases. It is also sensible to note what Vertue had to say about "his industry and understanding in the forms and buildings of shipping with all the tackles ropes & sails &c which he thoroughly understood ..... his neatness and clean pencilling of sky and water ..... (his) many excursions towards the coasts and seaports of England". Vertue's note here concerning the "tackles ropes & sails &c", however, seems to have been unduly influenced by his observation of what I consider to be Monamy's original detailed ship portrait in the Foundling Hospital.

"Signatures don't mean much" --- M.S.Robinson, circa 1983

Just to stay in the same place means you have to run like hell.

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