Hogarth, Monamy, and The Connoisseurs
Vauxhall Gardens & St Martin's Lane
The masterstroke conception, ascribed to Hogarth, of using Vauxhall Gardens as a showcase for English painting, solved two problems at once. It dramatically increased the resort's popularity and simultaneously introduced native art to an expanding and previously untapped market.
According to the account in Old and New London (Vol VI, p 452; perhaps not the most authoritative source), in 1731 (it would have to be) Jonathan Tyers, the leaseholder of Vauxhall Gardens, was weighing up the respective merits of death by hanging or drowning. These were, incidentally, the proverbial alternatives in prospect for those who went to sea --- as vividly expressed in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Hogarth met him, and invited him to call "at his studio in Leicester Fields. The interview took place and the result was the concocting and getting up of the first 'Ridotto al Fresco', ... one of the attractions being the embellishment of the gardens by Hogarth's own pencil."
A "Ridotto" is an "entertainment consisting of singing and dancing, especially a masked ball". It is not clear to me that the wholesale decoration of Vauxhall with paintings, by other artists as well as Hogarth, was fully-fledged at the time of this Ridotto, June 1732, and it seems more likely that the first works by Hayman and Monamy were proposed for the re-opening in 1736, as the prospective success of the idea became apparent. My surmise is that Monamy's paintings of Black-Ey'd Susan and the Algerine Pirates would have appeared in about 1736, or at latest by 1738.
The painting above, left, is not the original of the Vauxhall Gardens painting. It is a stretched version of a painting with a similar title by van de Velde, which was engraved by Kirkall in about 1725. Monamy's work is based on Kirkall's mezzotint, but is inserted here because it is dated, and supports the likelihood that this subject was on display in the Gardens well before 1740. It would be interesting to know the exact sequence of events between the 1731 issue of Faber's mezzotint, with Monamy's claim to be second only to van de Velde; the painting of the two versions of the Monamy/Walker conversation piece (now attributed to Hamilton); the issue of Scott's rival mezzotint advertisement; the five days peregrination of Scott, Hogarth et al in 1732; the formation of the Walpole-Scott Club; the award to Lambert and Scott of the East India Company contract; and Monamy's confirmed involvement in the Vauxhall Gardens display. By 1736, of course, Scott was well aboard the Walpole gravy-train, as this year marks the "Earliest known reference to Sir Robert Walpole owning two sea-pieces --- overdoors --- at his house in Downing Street". (Samuel Scott Bicentenary, exhibition catalogue, 1972).
St Martin's Lane Academy
Hodgkinson says that "about fifty" of the boxes at Vauxhall "contained paintings by Hayman and his assistants". As usual, Monamy is left out of this account. Nevertheless, forty years later Monamy's four recorded paintings were still being exceptionally prominently displayed. To quote David Coke: "the Sea Engagement with the Algerine Pirates and Black-Eyed Susan were in the last boxes at either end of the Chinese Pavilions, and the Taking of Porto Bello and the Capture of the S Joseph were at either end of the straight run of boxes on the south side of the Grove, looking on to the Italian (or Grand South) Walk. All indications must be that all four were of a similar size to the Hayman pictures; at least nobody comments on any difference in size." It is ludicrous to suppose that Monamy had no assistants, and equally ludicrous not to suppose that some, at least, of the fifty boxes were decorated with marine paintings, of the Monamy school.
The Painting Academy in St Martin's Lane was established by Hogarth in 1734, when his father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill died. It has been suggested that the "assistants" who provided the paintings at Vauxhall were also students at the Academy. Most artists of any distinction have had their "schools", formed by students aspiring to careers as painters, who were also assistants, and there is no reason to suppose that Monamy's case was any different.
What subjects could be of greater practical value as instructive exercises for a budding marine painter than Night & A Ship on Fire and Moonlight? The little pictures on the wall behind the figure of Monamy in the conversation piece (above) are, I submit, significant. A student/assistant, halfway into his teens, whether at the St Martin's Academy or in the Monamy workshop, would be profitably employed in displaying his promise by essaying these themes. Charles Brooking's earliest known paintings, dated 1740 when he was aged 17, are shown below.
For Brooking, click here.
Brooking's Burning Ship and Moonlight already exhibit precocious talent, and are painted in an individual vein. Nevertheless, the choice of themes strongly suggests that he had absorbed, at the least, some instructive advice from either the St Martin's Lane Academy, or Monamy, or both. If a Dutch precedent for these themes, fire and moonlight, simply has to be found, then the works of Aert van der Neer might fill the bill --- up to a point.