The Conversation Piece

The right-hand image, above, has been scanned in from Frederick Antal's Hogarth and his place in European Art, 1962. At first I thought it was the elusive second version, recorded as in the Art Institute of Chicago, mentioned in the 1968 catalogue entry, below. I imagined I detected minuscule variation in the easel painting. There is variation, but it is entirely due to the angle at which the two photographs have been taken. Reference to Antal's picture credits confirms that the black and white photograph is, in fact, also of the Earl of Derby's painting.

Catalogue entry from The French Taste in English Painting, during the first half of the 18th century
by Elizabeth Einberg, Kenwood Summer Exhibition, 1968

An on-line search of the pictures held by the Chicago Museum produced no results at all for either Hogarth or Monamy. Mystification ensued. The statement that the painting exhibited at Kenwood in 1968 was loaned by the A.A.Munger Collection in Chicago could not be more explicit. Nor could the assertion be more confident that this loaned picture was the second (presumably unsigned by either Monamy or Hogarth --- or Hamilton) of two versions. The measurements of the painting with the signed easel canvas are given by Beckett, in 1949, as 24¾ x 20; and of the second by Einberg, here, as 23¼ x 20½. Beckett gives the measurements of the second painting as 23 x 20.

The mystery was partly dispelled by sight of the issue of The Fine Arts containing the Chicago painting. The publication turns out to be dated June 1933, not May, and pure chance led me to acquire the correct issue. Although the photograph is now more than 70 years old, it appears to me pretty clear that the picture is a copy, perhaps not by Hamilton, of the Knowsley painting. Such side-by-side comparison as is possible, at such a long remove, suggests to me that neither Hamilton nor Monamy had a hand in the copy, which could indeed be circa 1740, or even later.

The mystery has now, to all appearances, been completely dispelled by sight of French and British Paintings from 1600 to 1800 in The Art Institute of Chicago, 1996, which is discussed here. The picture is not attributed to Hogarth, but to Gawen Hamilton, and doubt is cast on the authorship of the sea-piece on the easel. However, to my mind, there is no doubt at all that the easel painting in the Earl of Derby's collection [K: below] is by Monamy, and that it is signed by him.

The right-hand picture (Chicago) appears to me distinctly inferior.

From Fine Arts, June 1933

A Key to the Great Century of English Painting.

Described in Hogarth, by R.B.Beckett, RKP 1949, p.44, as "Monamy showing a picture to Mr Walker. Peter Monamy (1670-1749), painter of seascapes, with his patron, Thomas Walker. 24¾ x 20. The picture on the easel is by Monamy, and bears his signature. The rest of the painting is by Hogarth. 1740 has been suggested as a probable date, but it may be earlier. [NB The plate illustration in Beckett's book indicates a date of 1730-1732. Personally I would like it to be slightly earlier still. CHW] Coll. --- Richard Bull, by whom presented before 1783 to Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford. In the Strawberry Hill collection till 1842, when bought by the then Earl of Derby. Exh. --- 1867, National Portraits, 1888, Grosvenor Gallery. Listed --- A.D. 202. [Austin Dobson, William Hogarth, 7th edn., 1907]. See --- Description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole, 1772, Additions since the Appendix, 150 (going up to 1783). Version ---- There is a version at the Art Institute of Chicago, 23 x 20, reproduced in Fine Arts, XX, 25." [See page one].

It is a pity that the painting exhibited at Kenwood in 1968 is not illustrated, and that the above reproduction is the best that can currently be found. It is noteworthy that Einberg catalogues this painting as "attributed" to Hogarth. Presumably the easel painting in this version is not signed by Monamy.

Engraving by Tardieu, 1727: from Hogarth, Antal, 1962

It is also odd that neither of the two versions of this painting, nor Monamy, is once mentioned in Paulson's three volume account of Hogarth.

Quote from Dr. Bernd Krysmanski's invaluable Hogarth website: "It should be noted that Elizabeth Einberg is working on a new catalogue raisonné of Hogarth's paintings, which will update, and upgrade, the older catalogues, but it is uncertain when it will be completed." On its completion no doubt all will be made clear.

A link of the Tardieu engraving of Watteau and Jullienne with the Walker/Monamy piece is suggested in Antal's study of 1962, and has been picked up by Einberg in her 1968 catalogue. The similarities are no greater than in the 1733 satire, reproduced below. The sequence offers an amusing commentary on the disintegration of the relationship between painter and "patron".

Metamorphoses of a Theme ?

I takes and paints --- hears no complaints,
And sells before I'm dry.
Till savage Ruskin --- sticks his tusk in,
Then nobody will buy.

Charles William Shirley Brooks, 1816-1874: Poem by a Perfectly Furious Academician, 1856.

The best question put to me at the BSECS conference in January 2005 concerned Monamy and patronage. "Did Monamy have a patron? Was Mr Walker his patron?" Much hangs on the answer to these questions, and no fully satisfactory response yet seems possible. My instinctive reaction to both queries was "No"; but I should be more circumspect. It is arguable that there is sufficient evidence to allow that Lord Torrington might be described as a patron. But I tend to think of him as a customer, or potential customer, rather than a patron. Ideologically, and in line with Hogarth's attitude to the connoisseurs, my thought was more that Monamy represented the concept of art for all, and I mentioned cheap prints, Vauxhall Gardens and pub signs, in support of this idea.

With the re-attribution of the Walker/Monamy piece to Hamilton, the division already perceived in the nature of Monamy's paintings before and after 1732 becomes even clearer. It may well be that prior to the (notional) opinions expressed by the "Antiquarians and Connoisseurs" Monamy enjoyed a lucrative patronage: but after they stuck their tusks in, he was compelled to slide down-market.

The very existence of the conversation piece is curious. Why would such a painting be produced? Who would want it? In view of Walpole's comments on Walker's collection it is difficult to believe that he ever bought a picture from Monamy: his advisers would not have recommended home-grown paintings, particularly at this date.

Left: entry for Monamy in The Age of Hogarth, by Elizabeth Einberg & Judy Egerton, Tate Gallery Publications, 1988.

The only point on which I would politely demur in this sympathetic account is that Monamy modelled his style chiefly on William van de Velde. This assertion will insist on being made, and the trouble with it is that it smothers any proper recognition of Monamy's style, which is chiefly founded on native English sign-painting. Unless this simple fact is accepted, the history of subsequent C18th English painting cannot be rightly understood.

The statement that Monamy took an apprentice, and the implication that this is somewhere on record, is chargeable to me.

"In one view ... the history of scholarship is a history of error". E.G.Stanley, 1975.

"When we are confronted with the expression of the mind of someone long dead, embodied in a work of art, [in] the process of coming to understand it ..... we have to develop a technique of questioning, asking questions which arise out of the work itself." Helen Gardner, 1959.

Shock Horror Dismay

page one         page two         page three         page four
more on the two conversation pieces
conversations: yet another look
more on vauxhall gardens
title page     introduction     background
article 1981     article 1983
monamy website index

© Charles Harrison Wallace 2005
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