here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.


In Four Phases

Not all these paintings have been seen, and the signatures and dates given for some of them have to be taken on trust. In the "Turnbull Sale" at Christie's, on 26th May 1924, lot 44, a shipwreck scene was said to be signed by Monamy, and dated 1760, ie 11 years after the painter's death. Mr Michael Robinson, who spent an entire lifetime researching the work of the van de Veldes, warned me that "signatures don't mean much". This is especially true of the ever-saleable 18th century marine genre, and the corollary of caveat emptor is "let the seller dissemble". Monamy's signature can have been added to marine canvases by others, eg his son-in-law Francis Swaine, or his creditors, as soon as he was dead, or even in his own lifetime, in order to persuade the undecided buyer. While some of the paintings posted below are included solely on the basis of signature and date, there are preferable criteria for authenticity, notably an uninterrupted history in one location, and the corroborative evidence of prints. Even identification by print can be suspect, as will be shown on another page.

These pages do not set out to establish authenticity on the basis of excellence or style, but attempt to arrange indubitably authentic works in a chronological sequence so that some tentative assessment of development can be detected. Datable canvases do not necessarily represent an artist's best work, or even represent the best he was producing at the time in question. There is probably just sufficient information provided by the works shown here to give an indication of Monamy's development and changing style, especially when other biographical data, however minimal, are taken into account.

The 45 years from 1704 to 1749 appear to divide fairly neatly and logically into three or four main periods or phases. These are, first, what might be termed a "na´ve" period, from 1704 until about 1720; second, a "derivative" period, for about the next ten or twelve years, when he would have been absorbing influence from a very wide variety of sources, "Imitations of other famous masters of paintings in this manner --- VandeVelds &c", as Vertue expressed it; followed by a transitional phase circa 1730-1738, into a final period when he seems almost deliberately to have rejected the influence of foreign art, and reverted to a fundamentally English style, recalling his early training as a London sign-painter. It should be kept very firmly in mind that Monamy was, beyond shadow of doubt, the promotion, publicity, and advertising arm of the Patriot Opposition to Walpole: 1725-1742, to steal the title of Christine Gerrard's 1994 study.

The paintings from this last period are, of course, the most reliably dated, since many of them depict recorded actions during the war years, 1739-1745. Remoter historical events could have been reproduced at any time at all after their occurrence. Monamy's representation of Byng's action off Barcelona, 1706, was not painted until 1725, nearly 20 years after it happened, which is why, presumably, it closely resembles another painting, by H.Vale, dated 1713. Needless to say, neither canvas shows one iota of influence from van de Velde.

PHASE ONE: 1704-1720

Unsigned. Painter-Stainer's Hall. Traditionally by Monamy.
Dated on internal evidence 1702/04

Comment by Michael Robinson, 21st April 1980, on "the little picture painted for the Painted Chamber in the Stainer's Hall. It is fairly crudely painted and is unlikely to be painted as accurately as Van de Velde would have done. It is a three-decker and she does not have the man on horseback as a figurehead which the Britannia had. It is a complicated figurehead and the ship could well be intended for the Royal Sovereign of 1701. The ship on the right stern view is the flagship of an admiral of the blue. From the log of the Royal Sovereign (Adm, 51-4320), Admiral George Churchill hoisted the blue flag at the main of the Triumph on the 2 June 1702; on the 20 June, the Royal Sovereign sailed from Spithead, leaving Churchill behind, though he had by then shifted his flag into another ship. The Painted Chamber was being built between 1703 and 1707 and so it is quite a possibility that Monamy painted it as a gift to the Company on his being made free, 1 March 1703/4."

30 x 49½. Signed. Third rate man of war circa 1707/10

This painting was bought at auction at Christie's, 21 November 1980, lot 121, and repeatedly scrutinized by M.S.Robinson and W.Percival-Prescott from the National Maritime Museum. Robinson remarked on its great accuracy of detail, and it was a major factor in altering his perception of the van de Velde copies which he had previously been ascribing to Monamy. It led to his final acceptance of the idea that a greater influence than van de Velde on Monamy's earliest canvases would have been Isaac Sailmaker. In fact, there is no reason to doubt Vertue's account of Monamy's rise from "ordinary painting", ie interior decoration, to marine specialist; and it is worth considering that the painter's initial access to ships would have included those available in his immediate surroundings, while living on London Bridge. He would certainly have found Isaac Sailmaker a closer early mentor than van de Velde. The following expert comments were made by Frank L.Fox:

"... the Monamy 3rd rate ... It could be a complicated problem. The painting does not have to be the same age as the ship, and the ship's appearance is not necessarily the same as when it was built. For instance, older ships in the dockyard for routine maintenance after 1707 might have had their port wreaths removed rather than replaced or spruced up. The lunate taffrail and the head brackets laid on the outside of the headrails are characteristic of ships built before Queen Anne's reign; the 1690s are not out of the question.

However, the painting itself surely dates from after 1707, partly because of the missing port wreaths, but more importantly because of the Union canton in the ensign. For the latest date possible, I suppose the rigging would give the only clues. Dr Anderson (Seventeenth Century Rigging) says that the spritsail topmast was abolished for all but three-deckers in 1719, but long before that he would expect a jib-boom to coexist with it starting not long after 1700; Lees, in Masting and Rigging of English Ships of War, gives about 1705 for this. Several other features seem to call for the earliest possible date: the rather low position on the mainstay of the lead blocks for the fore and foretopsail braces, the absence of bumpkins and bowsprit shrouds, and the presence of only two reef bands on the topsails.

My guess is that the painting shows a ship of William III's reign portrayed around 1707-1710. The Union at the main might be for the admiral of the fleet, and if so, it would presumably be Leake or Aylmer."

Subsequent to this analysis, Brian Lavery, author of The Ship of the Line 1650-1850, identified the ship, with reasonable if not total confidence, as the Monmouth. She was one of four, the others being the Defiant, Warspite, and Rupert, constructed to the same design during the reign of William III (1688-1702). The Monmouth, Captain Baker, took part in the capture of Gibraltar, 1704. A Council of War was held on her decks off Toulon in 1707; and it may be that the painting commemorates that occasion, as the Union flag indicates the presence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, in this case Sir Clowdisley Shovell. In September 1708 she sailed for Jamaica, where she was commanded by Captain Trevor¹. In 1713 her captain was Francis Hosier, who as Admiral Hosier was to succumb to yellow fever during the ill-fated blockade of Porto Bello in 1726. Most references to the ship accord her a full complement of 70 guns, of which only 30 are visible on the starboard flank depicted.

An excerpt from the life of Admiral Sir John Balchen, once viewable here or better here, contained further information on the Monmouth: "The following May (1719) Captain Balchen was appointed to the 70-gun Monmouth, a ship with which he was closely associated for most of the next decade, as it was included in the Baltic summer cruises under Admiral John Norris in 1719, 1720, 1721 and 1727, as well as under Sir Charles Wager in 1726. Between 1722 and 1725 Captain Balchen was in command of the Ipswich guardship at Spithead and in October 1727 went in the Monmouth as part of a reinforcement for Sir Charles Wager's support of Gibraltar, then besieged by Spain. The dispute was temporarily settled and the supporting fleet returned home in January 1728." The best account of Balchen is in Wikipedia.

33 x 42. Signed. Traditionally held to be the first winner of Doggett's Coat & Badge race
1st August 1715. In Watermen's Hall

It must be stressed again that none of these three paintings bears the slightest indication of any influence of the van de Veldes. The little Painter's Hall wood panel painting has been confidently attributed, by a noted connoisseur, to Isaac Sailmaker. It seems a little odd to me that Sailmaker, aged 71, would have donated such an insignificant little work to Painter's Hall in 1704, but who knows? The evidence of three paintings over an eleven year period is not compelling, but they bear out Vertue's statement that Monamy "took to the study & inclination of painting of ships --- or sea pieces from the Variety of those Views he had continually before his eyes where he liv'd when prentice". Nothing could be more obvious a view before his eyes than the Doggett's Race winner, although this would no doubt have been specially commissioned by Watermen's Hall. There is no documentary record. After examining the available evidence I am now certain that this picture was painted not in 1715, but after 1719.

¹ "TREVOR, Tudor: .... we find him 2nd captain in rank on the court-martial convened, at Jamaica, ..... on 23d of July 1708. In the month of September he was promoted to the Monmouth, a third rate of seventy guns, newly arrived from Europe ..... Rear-Admiral Wager himself returned to England in the month of October 1710, leaving Captain Trevor commander-in-chief on that station pro tempore. ..... He ..... returned to Europe in the following spring." Charnock, Biographica Navalis, 1795, Vol III, p.176.


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