January 2007: See Footnote

The Signal to Anchor: 1

National Maritime Museum

Quote: "Monamy began his career as a sign-painter in 18th-century London. Something of the immediacy of the street sign remains in many of his marine paintings. With its flags fluttering in the breeze, the Admiral of the Fleet's flagship in the centre of this painting dominates its surroundings, just as Britain itself was beginning to dominate the world's seas. Through images like this, British marine painters were able to voice their nation's pride in its new-found imperial power." From the NMM website 2001. Click on picture for source.

Compare Peter Monamy 1981, in the Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise: "An English Fleet at Sea ... The Commander-in-Chief with Vice-Admirals of the Red and Blue to either side. An expression of the spirit of 'Rule Britannia!'." Quote, p.101: "Unlike many other artists, Peter Monamy was peculiarly well-suited by birth and training to give artistic expression to these sentiments." Quote, Peter Monamy, 1681-1749, Marine Artist, Chichester Exhibition Catalogue 1983: "The apprentice sign-painter would have an ingrained belief that a painting should signify".

The second of these comments, predating the first by 20 years, was penned with reference not to the NMM painting, but to a very closely related work which I had seen hanging at the Yale Center for British Art, in the USA. A detailed study of the relationship between these two pictures will reveal the artist at work, and demonstrate how Monamy succeeded in bringing a new and uniquely original element to English painting.

The manner in which he achieves his effect is best seen, at first, by comparing the two paintings in black and white.

28¼ x 35½. Yale Center for British Art

34½ x 51. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

I am assuming that the left-hand version was painted before the right; although this may not necessarily have been the case. It will be rapidly apparent that the light in the second picture has been reversed, and this can be seen even more clearly in the detailed comparison below. However, this modification is certainly not the only difference, and a number of further points are noted on the next page.

There is a third painting, 33 x 61, signed Monamy, of a not dissimilar scene, entitled The English Fleet at anchor with the Admiral's ship sailing (ie signalling), also at Yale, which in my view must have been painted at about the same time as the first two. The similarities of subject and title have created some confusion; however, besides being larger, it depicts the flagship from the stern starboard quarter, as seen above. This picture was formerly in the collection of the Marquis of Thomond. It is not, however, still in the Yale collection, as it appeared in an exhibition held from 15 Aug - 17 Oct, 2009, at Lymington, England, as from a private collection. The NMM painting formed part of the Macpherson collection, and came to the Museum in 1928. Its remoter provenance is not known to me.

Subsequent to the above remark, a painting by Monamy sold on May 23rd, 1835, for the then astonishingly high price of 67-4-0, has come to my notice. It is tempting to suppose that it could perhaps have been this work, although the description ---- "a man of war at anchor, with other ships in the distance" ---- is simply too vague to carry conviction. The ships here are unlikely to have been described as "in the distance". Or could they? See here.

It has been evident for many decades that there is something exceptionally striking and special about this painting. It was reproduced in Old Sea Paintings, with illustrations "mainly from the Macpherson collection", by E.Keble Chatteron, 1928. This prolix scribbler, whose inane comments on Monamy have proved to be one of the major obstacles to the painter's recognition for the past 80 years, attributed the work to Antonio Verrio, (p.96).¹ Once utter drivel gets into print, it becomes extremely difficult to eradicate. The picture was exhibited at Guildhall and Whitechapel in 1928-29, and also in the British Exhibition at the RA in 1934. In this exhibition it was described as a "Sea Piece", by Monamy, and alleged to depict "The Arrival of the Queen of Portugal at Spithead, 24th September, 1708". The authority for this statement, which on the face of it seems to me totally incredible, in terms of both date and subject, is not vouchsafed. Monamy was certainly not painting like this in 1708. It is also stated to be signed: Peter Monamy: Pinx. Perhaps this signature appears on the back of the canvas. It has since been reproduced in several other publications, most rationally and sensibly in Oliver Warner's Fighting Sail, 1979, p.155. See also here, for two book jacket illustrations.

¹ One note on the painting, presumably from the Guildhall and Whitechapel Exhibition Catalogue, 1928-9, reads as follows: "PETER MONAMY (?) 1670-1749. 'A FLEET AT SEA.' The principal vessel portrayed in this picture is perhaps intended for a First Rate of the period 1690-1700. By the Union Flag at the main and the Dutch Ensign at the ensign staff she is signalling to the fleet, over which she presides, to anchor. If this picture is by Monamy, and the attribution must be regarded as conjectural, it can only be described as a magnificent example of this master's early manner, when he was following the Younger Van de Velde as closely as he could. In colours and composition it resembles the large ceiling painted at Hampton Court by A.Verrio who has represented a very similar incident. As Verrio's line of painting was altogether different, it is possible he invited Monamy's assistance on a subject of which he knew nothing."

The second note, from the RA Exhibition 1934, reads: "MONAMY, PETER. 1690 (?) Jersey - London 1749. ARRIVAL OF THE QUEEN OF PORTUGAL AT SPITHEAD, 24 SEPTEMBER, 1708. In the centre, a port quarter view of Sir George Byng's flagship, the Royal Anne, in which the Queen sailed for Lisbon. A yacht passing under the stern. Starboard bow, Rear-Admiral Baker's Revenge escorting yachts bringing the Queen from Holland. In the l. middle distance, the Triumph, the flagship of Sir J.Jennings, Vice-Admiral of the Red. Signed: Peter Monamy: Pinx."

Neither of these rather contradictory notes, five years apart, appears to me to carry great credibility today. The first has Verrio (died 1707) seeking the assistance of an apprentice. The second has Monamy producing this painting at the age of 18. Even with the correct birth date of 1681, he would still only have been 25. It may be doubted that the main ship represented is the Royal Anne, and where are the "yachts bringing the Queen from Holland"? In 1981 I let myself be influenced by these comments, and assumed the picture to be an "early work". I have no doubt now that it is fully mature, and am certain that Monamy was not "following the Younger Van de Velde as closely as he could" in his early years, or at any other time. Van de Velde was simply one of many sources he drew on for his own purposes, although he acknowledged the Dutchman's excellence.

Currently, August 1st 2003, the website mounted by the National Maritime Museum makes the following comment: "The painting probably depicts the 'Royal Anne' arriving with the Queen of Portugal at Spithead in 1708. The 'Royal Anne', with the Commander-in-Chief, Sir George Byng, on board is positioned prominently in port-quarter view in the centre of the painting. The Union flag flies at the main together with a striped ensign at the stern that is the signal for the fleet to anchor. Also present are a vice-admiral of the red (red at the fore) and a rear-admiral of the blue (blue at the mizzen), together with a great many other ships of the fleet flying the colours of their respective squadrons. Rear-Admiral Baker's ship, 'Revenge', escorted the yachts bringing the Queen from Holland. Monamy, a self-taught artist, was influenced by van de Velde the Younger and may have worked in his studio." The date of the painting is given as c 1708. In view of the authoritative weight and source of these statements, this seems to be a good point in time to subject my ideas on this painting to rigorous self-criticism on another page. No honest man fears to change his mind in the face of compelling evidence. Here. Here.

hope and glory 2       hope and glory 3       what, when, why
monamy website index
artistic range 3


mail here

© Charles Harrison Wallace 2001, 2007, 2013
all rights reserved