January 2007: See Footnote

The Signal to Anchor: When and Why

"An English Fleet Coming to Anchor; Artist Peter Monamy; Date circa 1708"

"Monamy, a self-taught artist, was influenced by van de Velde the Younger
and may have worked in his studio."

Before addressing the questions of when and why Monamy may have painted this picture, a brisk response to the above remark is called for. It is puzzling to me why Monamy is persistently labelled "self-taught". He spent a full seven years as an apprentice under the tutelage of a former Master of the Painter-Stainer's Company. This man's trade involved the production of highly-crafted pictorial signboards, virtually the sole form of native English folk art. Signs such as these are recorded as having cost anything up to 200, some say 500. Other work consisted of interior house-decoration, of which Thornhill's Painted Hall is the most celebrated example. William Hogarth, apprenticed to an engraver, learnt painting on his own, yet it is not felt necessary to intone "Hogarth, the self-taught painter" whenever his name comes up. Nor has one ever heard of "Sailmaker, Vale, Woodcock; Scott, Brooking, Swaine, the self-taught artists".

Van de Velde the Younger was influenced by Simon de Vlieger, Hendrick Dubbels, Jan van de Cappelle and Ludolf Backhuysen, to name but four, as is shown by various authors, and on pages scattered about this website. Nobody thinks it imperative perpetually to raise the matter of these influences. Monamy may have worked in the van de Velde studio, but he surely didn't. No-one, until Richard and Samuel Redgrave in 1866, 185 years after his birth, even hints at the fantasy that he might have. Even in 1866, the Redgraves only mention the thought to deny it. The shadow of autodidacticism, introduced by Walpole, is as long as the idea of instruction by the van de Veldes, only faintly, but fatally, suggested by Monamy himself. The two theories are mutually exclusive: either the van de Veldes taught him, or he taught himself --- not both. The simple fact, however, is that he was taught by Master William Clarke, and then followed his own inclinations.

Comment: When? The previous page establishes, to my satisfaction at least, that associating the Queen of Portugal with the Signal to Anchor is utterly misleading. This painting celebrates English sea power, English naval ascendancy, the consolidation of past achievement and the prospects for more of the same. It may also honour Byng, but only if it can be established that the central ship is the Royal Anne, when under his command. For a start, I would date the painting's production to well after the culmination of Byng's Mediterranean command, which was concluded by his total annihilation of the Spanish presence at the Battle of Cape Passaro, 1718. At Passaro, however, his flagship was the Barfleur, and that ship is definitely not represented in the Signal to Anchor.

In 1720 the ratification of English dominance in the Mediterranean was agreed by peace treaty with Spain, only to be threatened again by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1725, when Austria agreed to help Spain recover Gibraltar. These years coincide with Monamy's move to Westminster, and I suggest that it was during this period that he worked on the Signal to Anchor, which, in essence, is an assertive statement that England was not to be moved. There is more extant evidence for Monamy's preparation and attention to the composition of this painting than for anything else in his oeuvre.

van de Velde the Elder, grisaille, dated 1672: Dutch Fleet at Sea, 1666

Whether or not Monamy had seen, or owned, this grisaille by the Elder, it does strike me that its representation of a major ship of war, surrounded by other warships and scattered boats, seen in stern port quarter view, with flags and sails fluttering in a breeze blowing from left to right, can reasonably be associated with the Signal to Anchor. But the resemblance is not close.

Monamy pen and sepia wash, undated

A possible relationship between the pen and wash sketch by Monamy and "a painting", probably the painting at right, was noted many years ago. When discussing the sketch with Michael Robinson, he was of the opinion that it was based on a painting or a drawing by the van de Veldes. This may be so, and after combing through their drawings and paintings I may find something similar. However, there is little doubt, to my mind, that the right hand half of the sketch is a foretaste of the Signal to Anchor, and the immediately preceding oil now at Yale.

Inset, in red frame, is the stern from this painting, Y, for comparison with what has been identified as the stern of the Royal Anne in the Signal to Anchor.

It looks as though there might also be 11 ships in painting Y. It is also possible that the number of ships is merely coincidental, and insufficiently conclusive proof that the picture's subject depicts the events of late 1708. Aside from firmly establishing that the featured ship is the Royal Anne, more knowledge of this ship is needed.

Monamy, undated, 28 x 35, stern inset below

The Dictionary of Sea Painters of Europe and America, 2000 AD, dates the Greenwich Signal to Anchor to c.1715, in its caption to the plate (208), and notes that "The early 18th century saw the return of the open stern gallery, though in a different form from the early 17th century ones." Archibald's otherwise comprehensive book The Fighting Ship in the Royal Navy, 897-1984, does not appear to include the Royal Anne, nor do Brian Lavery's two volumes on The Ship of the Line, but see Baston's line print ship portrait.

Mr Archibald's dating of the painting to c 1715, as published in 1980, appears to be based on the design of the ship's stern. I now realize that, more importantly, he assigned the work a date of 1715 because, although still obsessed by the idea that it must be one of Monamy's earliest paintings, he couldn't place it before the accession of George I, in 1714. See below. He takes no account of the 1934 RA Exhibition catalogue note, nor does he identify the ship as the Royal Anne. Comparison of the stern in the painting with Baston's print dated 1721 certainly poses several questions concerning their correspondence. Although there is a superficial similarity, closer examination reveals many differences of detail, most obviously the open gallery in Monamy's painting. Could the open gallery be closed at will? See comparison of the model of the Royal William with its portrayal in paintings, here. My view is that the Signal to Anchor must post-date Baston's 1721 capital ship prints.

Is Baston's rather crude depiction at fault, or is Monamy being capricious? Has he painted a fully identifiable ship? The open stern gallery certainly seems to be preceded in the Y painting, but what is needed is a certifiable representation of the Royal Anne.

To the right, above, is a detail from Monamy's signed painting of the bombardment of Alicante, 20th July, 1706, which gives every indication of having been painted for Lord Torrington in 1725, at about the same time as his dated painting of the relief of Barcelona. It appears to show the same ship, but with rounded lanterns --- although it's difficult to tell. However, this detail depicts the flagship of Sir John Leake, which happened to be the Prince George. At one point in our discussions, Michael Robinson remarked to me that the stern in Monamy's so-called Britannia composition was either of the Royal Anne or the Prince George.

Setting a defensible date to very many of Monamy's paintings is indeed a major problem. The earliest known signed and dated painting is not until 1720, when Monamy was already 39 years old. My contention is that he did not develop a fully mature, personal, confident manner until about 1727. Pictures after the mid to late 1720s seem to me, on the whole, increasingly to shed any subservience to earlier Dutch painting, and I would include the Signal to Anchor in this category. I do not agree that in this painting "he was following the Younger van de Velde as closely as he could".

A bewildering variation of manner is displayed in the three examples shown at right. It seems impossible to believe that the Signal to Anchor could have been produced before any of these three paintings. Yet these are about as authentic as any of the known oeuvre, especially the Relief of Barcelona, which is signed and dated 1725, and gives every indication of having been commissioned by George Byng, Lord Torrington. It has to be supposed that in this rather primitive-looking panorama, both Monamy and Vale were following battle-sketches made by an eye-witness, perhaps Byng himself.

Signed P.Monamy, conjectured date 1707-1710

1st Eddystone Lighthouse, undated, sgnd P.Monamy

Relief of Barcelona: sgnd P.Monamy and dated 1725

Having said that Monamy was not following van de Velde "as closely as he could", I do nevertheless think that he was, up to a point, influenced in this painting by the line prints of Thomas Baston and the Kirkall mezzotints "after Vanderveld", both dating to the mid-1720s. See here. Finally, by some miracle, we approach an answer to the composition of the Signal to Anchor.

very nearly the same ship: the lanterns have been changed, and the top gallery lengthened.

The left hand stern comes from an unsigned painting, judged by both Robinson and myself to be by Monamy, which is a slight variation of van de Velde's painting of either the Britannia or the Royal Sovereign under way, now in Greenwich. See here and here. Robinson will surely have sorted out all the many versions of this composition, but I haven't yet checked. The variations in the stern of the ship in the Signal to Anchor are really quite minimal. The lanterns are square, and there is a slight alteration to the carved figure at the left of the top open gallery. Otherwise the two portrayals are near identical. In my view, therefore, the ship in the Signal to Anchor was painted about 1725, or later, during or after the time when Kirkall produced his series of 16 marine mezzotints.

The Queen of Portugal? Hand me your spyglass, Jim lad. Not sure I see her.

Comment: Why?   Anybody's guess, at present. I'll think of something.

assorted sterns
byng's battles       hope and glory: what
hope & glory 1       hope & glory 2       hope & glory 3
calm excellence one       calm excellence two
britannia, royal william or royal anne?
phlegmatic performances
monamy website index

End of Story

Unless I'm going blind the lettering on the stern of this boat reads G R. Speculation on this and linked pages about the date of Peter Monamy's Signal to Anchor and event depicted can be chucked in the bin. The only question is whether GI or GII is intended.

Queen of Portugal ---- 1708
Accession of GRI ---- 1714
Accession of GRII --- 1727
Date of Painting ?


© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003, 2007, 2013
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