signed and dated 1720

The morning gun: signed and dated 'P: Monamy:/Pinx/1720' (lower centre, on a rock)
oil on canvas 38½ x 45½. Auctioned 13 December 2017. £47,500

Painting dated 1720

Provenance notes accompanying lot description, 2017: The Rt. Hon. the Third Viscount Astor, Cliveden, Buckinghamshire. His sale; Christie's, London, 7 July 1967, lot 33, as 'A British man o'war firing a salute, with other craft in a calm sea offshore'. (850 gns to Spink). With Spink, London. With Richard Green, London, 1968. John Irwin Esq. His sale; Christie's, London, 21 March 1975, lot 95, as 'The Morning Gun: a British man o'war firing a salute, and other shipping in an estuary', where purchased by the present owner. Good to have it confirmed that it has been around for 50 years at least, since 1967.

The catalogue notes included the usual casually unresearched and inaccurate mantra about Monamy, although it gave some evidence of being a slight improvement on previous denigrations. The potted biography reads as follows, with corrections: "The youngest son of a Guernsey man, Peter Monamy was born in London in 1681. Throughout his career [wrong] he was heavily influenced [wrong] by the works of Willem van de Velde, the Younger [wrong] and other North European, Dutch and French masters. Monamy was a collector of van de Velde's drawings and these clearly influenced his development [wrong] as a maritime painter resulting [?] in numerous commissions from mercantile and naval patrons, including the famous Channel Island's naval families, the Durrels [Durells] and the Saumarezs. In 1726, he was elected a Liveryman of the Company of Painter-Stainers, to which he presented a very large painting of the 'Royal Sovereign at Anchor' which still remains in their collection today. Although his paintings usually depict actual ships, they rarely record specific events [wrong] as, up until 1739, his career coincided with a long period of peace. From the 1730s [wrong] until his death, Monamy was at the centre of London's artistic life and was a friend and companion of Hogarth, sometimes collaborating with the celebrated younger artist [doubtful]. Despite his many commissions however, he was never particularly prosperous [wrong]. Monamy's eldest daughter, Mary, married the marine painter Francis Swaine and their [only] son, Monamy Swaine, following the family tradition, also became a marine artist."

A Reminder

Scanned from The London Gazetteer, 9th February 1749

December 2017. Distracted for the last 12 months by investigation into the origins of the Anglo-Saxon language, I must now return to my examination of the works and life of Peter Monamy, impelled by the appearance of this painting, dated 1720, on that strange roulette racket known as the art market. What I'm planning or have in mind to say, accordingly, I have already said, here, here, here, and here. Might as well hammer it home. What you have been told three times or more, by me, you will know to be true. Yes, I've said all this before. Now you know I'm getting old. Hell, I'm not even consistent.

There are two main reasons for the posthumous travesty of truth about Monamy's life and works. First was the misleading mezzotint sales slogan about his status: "Second only to Van de Velde". Second was the anecdote by odious Horace Walpole, which successfully poisoned all subsequent comment, although, in Monamy's case, it judiciously omitted any reference to van de Velde. Horace reserved the van de Velde accolade for Samuel Scott, the painter the Walpoles patronised and set up in order to rival Monamy.

The real basic reason for the misrepresentation and neglect of Monamy's oeuvre is politics, coupled with the decidedly unhistorical approach of the English art historian. As noted by Roger de Piles in the English version of his book, published 1706, pictures, once painted, tend to disappear. This would be especially true of the widespread works of a popular painter. Consequently, for the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th centuries, accounts by sniffy "historians" tended to rely on hearsay by earlier scribblers. Pontificators of this sort still exist, but photography and the internet are combining to correct their snobbish and distorted opinions.

The Rev Irvin Eller, in The History of Belvoir Castle, 1841, above, does his very best to extricate himself from the poisonous droppings of Horace, but finds it hard going. Those shallow waves roll on. It was actually Samuel Scott who never ventured beyond the shallows. The date of Eller's comments is of interest, as there seems to have been by about the mid-1850s a revival of appreciation of Monamy. This faded away again during the first 50 years of the 20th century. The latest publication on marine painting, 2016, suceeds amazingly, and apparently deliberately, in misquoting Vertue's revealing description of Monamy as the "Pictor Londini", and inanely crediting Francis Swaine with two sons instead of one.

Back to the politics of the early scribblers. Scribbler George Vertue was a low-profile Roman Catholic, who thought of Charles I as a martyr. Horace Walpole, who selectively based his anecdotes on Vertue's original records, veiled his personal faith in ambiguity, but his family tree contained six Jesuits, one of whom was a Roman Catholic saint; and his grandfather had rewardingly assisted the restoration of Charles II; England's all-time most treacherous and sleazy RC monarch. Horace's father, Sir Robert Walpole, professed to be a Whig, but in actual fact he was an out-and-out trimmer, and political opportunist, guyed in 1734 as the Vicar of Bray, who would go with the flow, provided he could stay on as Premier Minister, for as long as possible. At the same time he did his best to stay friends with the unforgotten instigators of the Spanish Inquisition.

Above are some notes by E.H.H.Archibald accompanying a travelling Arts Council exhibition of Maritime Paintings in 1965. Archibald was curator of paintings at the National Maritime Museum. Errors are underlined in red, and relatively correct observations underlined in green. Although Archibald had clearly conducted no original research at all, and simply conflates the plethora of earlier factual inaccuracies, it is evident that he is not totally blind to Monamy's abilities. Nevertheless he parrots Walpole's eulogy of the limited talents of Scott. The truth is that Scott was wholly unappreciated by genuine seamen, naval officers and traders who knew the sea. These were also men who were totally opposed to everything the Walpoles stood for.

Arts Council 1965 exhibit. Was it this painting ? click. Given measurements do not match.

Monamy's master, to whom he was apprenticed for 7 years in 1696, is described alternately by Archibald as a coach-painter and a house-painter. Hilariously, the German Wikipedia has this to say: "1696, mit 15 Jahren, geht er bei einem Buchbinder für sieben Jahre in die Lehre." Recorded 24/12/17. Unbelievable. The German web-page is riddled with numerous other errors. Elsewhere Monamy is, ludicrously, described as an apprentice Anstreicher. Since Monamy's master, William Clarke, had also been Master of the Painter-Stainers Company, I doubt that he qualified as Irvin Eller's "very humble" house- and sign-painter. Moreover, van de Velde had been employed in a similar capacity as a house-decorator at Ham House.

It is discernible, interestingly, that the van de Veldes, indebted as they were to their Roman Catholic patrons, Kings Charles II and James II, had themselves flirted with Roman Catholicism. Conversely Monamy could hardly be of a more opposite persuasion. It is virtually certain that the first Monamy in the Channel Islands, was a Marrano or Converso refugee from the Spanish or Portuguese Roman Catholic Inquisition, than which a more un-Christian movement is hard to imagine. Monamy was certainly not anachronistically a Huguenot, as currently suggested by the Tate Gallery, although clearly sympathetic to all who had suffered and fled from the late 17th century dragonnades in France. According to the Rev Ralph Lambert, the Roman Catholics in Ireland were even more ferocious. Not something one usually hears about. But see below.

Delivered by Ralph Lambert, DD. Printed and sold by H.Hills for the benefit of the poor.

In 1708 Monamy was 27 years old. The Younger van de Velde had died in 1707, and was buried in St James's Church, Westminster. Had Monamy happened to visit St James's on the 23rd October of the following year, he would have been treated to these words by the Reverend Lambert. If so, they would have reinforced the legacy of inherited Monamy family feelings about the Papacy. Curiously, the Roman Catholic Irish, especially in America, have long described the English Protestants in virtually identical terms. A book to be recommended is Cromwell was Framed, 2014, by Tom Reilly.

This page is growing long, but it is necessary to tackle the auction house's dogged and almost obsessive insistence on "the heavy influence" of van de Velde on Peter Monamy, "throughout his career"; and Monamy's large collection of van de Velde drawings, which "resulted in numerous commissions" [why numerous ?] from the misspelled Durell and Saumarez families.

The truth is that there are dozens of paintings by Peter Monamy which show no influence whatever of van de Velde. Commissions from the Durell family were far exceeded by commissions from City of London Guilds, for paintings celebratng the Hanoverian Accession, and several other Royal Occasions, including a canvas for the Royal House of Hanover, which in 1980 was at Buckingham Palace. George I was popular, especially with the Navy --- though this is currently oddly contested by a well-known London gallery --- but George II grew very unpopular, since he was seen as manipulated by Premier Walpole, and as a victimiser of his son and heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales. Frederick led the patriotic opposition to Walpole.

The nature of the extent to which Monamy was "influenced" by van de Velde needs examination. In passing, it should perhaps be noted that van de Velde the Younger was himself "influenced" by Simon de Vlieger, and later on by Backhuysen. In 2016 it was usefully established by Remmelt Daalder, in Van de Velde & Son, that Cornelius, the son of William the Younger, died in London in 1714. According to Horace, Cornelius made good copies of his father's works, but he also said that Cornelius went to Holland, and died there. Not much of what Horace says can be taken on trust, since he was adept at mixing fact with fiction. However, the death of Cornelius in London in 1714 coincides with the Hanoverian Accession, and the start of Monamy's rise to prominence. It therefore seems not improbable that in 1714 Monamy, perhaps with the financial assistance of his childless Uncle Andrew, may have acquired the remnants of Cornelius van de Velde's studio.

Monamy's rise took place not during the 1730s, but during the 1720s, peaking at about 1733. As well as the several celebrations of the Hanoverian Accession, 1714, including the portrait of the Doggett's coat and badge winner, his donation to Painter-Stainers' Hall of 1726, and the five "cartographic" battle-scenes for Admiral Byng, dated 1725, should be counted. These battle-scenes, largely ignored, show little or no influence of van de Velde: they are also arguably somewhat naive. Archibald, in spite of undertaking no archival research, more than once remarked that Monamy used a "new (or different) palette" from that of the van de Veldes, indicating that he was never employed in their shop, as was often surmised, and is still sometimes maintained.

The sale of Monamy's possessions in 1750, a year after his death, included a "Collection of Prints and Drawings: amongst which are many of William Vandevelde, Sen & Jun." The salesmanship of the auctioneer is apparent. Monamy would have acquired any such drawings, which were certainly fewer than the massive quantity collected by Samuel Scott, from a previous owner, and Cornelius is the most likely. The year of 1714 would have been the time for Monamy to join with his contemporary Painter Company freeman, James Thornhill, in celebrating English naval prowess and the Protestant monarchy.

signed: datable to circa 1729-1731

Exhibited Sotheby's January 1986: Rule Britannia ! Loan Exhibition in aid of RNLI.
25½ x 35½, signed and dated 1732 (?)

"O! That a Painter could be found, who in lively Colours could describe ..... the inside of Man's Soul ..... But it it is not in the Power of Art. It is not to be done. No Colours are lively enough, any more than they are to paint real Light, or the full Brightness of the Sun." Daniel Defoe, circa 1722; quoted in Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions, by Maximillian Novak, 2001, p. 609. See here.

Exceptionally perceptive comment by Matthew Dennison, Country Life, Sept 2, 2009.

Van de Velde's paintings were based on draughtsmanship; Monamy's on expressionism.


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Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike:

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2017
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