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The long shadow of Horace Walpole

Macaulay on Walpole. 1832.

It is difficult not to keep returning to Macaulay's devastating summary of the legacy of Horace Walpole. Time and again, when researching the comments made on the heritage of British painting (not self-regarding "art") one is reminded of Horace's supercilious pose, his deceptively hidden but still detectable agenda, and his unhealthy and disorganised mind.

Below is an example. See here, or click on picture. This overmantel decoration, in Nottingham, is described on its website as "Francis Swaine (d.1782). His Marine scene, in the manner of Van der Veld (sic), school of Monamy, [oil on canvas] was present in 1916 (Russell, 1916) and is now in the Reading Room (2006)."

Presumably, the painting is signed by Swaine; otherwise why ascribe it to him ? More importantly, why invoke van de Velde at all ? It is quite obvious that this picture is directly copied from Monamy's print, designed for "perspective viewing", and has little to do with van de Velde. It does, admittedly, depict ships, sailing on the sea. The ships in this particular painting owe considerably more to Backhuysen than to van de Velde. Prints after Backhuysen, see below, were earlier more readily available to Monamy than prints after van de Velde, which didn't appear in any form until after 1725. Walpole doesn't mention Swaine at all, damns Monamy with faint praise, and extols van de Velde.

Ludolf Backhuysen, Bakhuysen, Bakhuizen: print from 1701.

One of Monamy's characteristic traits is to have his ships leave the frame of his compositions, thereby drawing the spectator more closely in towards the reality and actuality of the events portrayed. This conception is almost cinematic, aided by the perspective viewing of the diagonal mirror, which was developing at this time.

44 by 33. Peter Monamy, painting aimlessly titled "Off Elizabeth Castle".

From the Preface, penned 1936, by R.Reynell Bellamy, to Ramblin' Jack: the Journal of Capt. John Cremer, 1700-1774. p.20.

More trenchant views from Mr Bellamy.

Hanoverian Accession: 1714

Astonishing to read the following comments, from a (technical) naval source, in connection with one of the several paintings attributed to Monamy depicting the arrival of George I.

"George I spoke little English and made frequent voyages back to his Hanoverian territories, employing the Royal yachts depicted in the painting. The initial burst of enthusiasm for the new King, reflected in this painting by the small boats setting off from Gravesend to greet him, soon dissipated into resentment by his English subjects. .... George I's offspring integrated with their British subjects much more successfully, and the Hanoverian dynasty ruled the country until the death of Queen Victoria in 1901." Further: "Many small craft are seen setting out from Gravesend, presumably to welcome the new King. 1714 was a rare moment when he was popular." [Hail Independence, Hail ! 1735.]

Compare those regrettably uninformed words with the passage above left by Bellamy.

Walpole père, who was greatly excoriated by the Navy, cultivated George II, a disliked and stupid martinet, and, in pursuit of his own career, did his best to restore the monarchy to its Stuart status. His son Horace consequently had little good to say about George I, and especially sneered at this king's patronage of the arts. Conversely, in other quarters, those of Thomas Doggett, for example, the accession of George I was hailed throughout his 13 year reign, and beyond.

To anyone who thinks twice, it seems incredible that an oil painting should be commented upon as though it had the immediacy of a photograph. At least one of Monamy's many paintings of the arrival of George I is signed and dated 1724 --- ten years after it happened ! The Hanoverian Accession was long being celebrated and valued as a momentous event in the country's history. Consider this remark: "the intriguing possibility that Monamy was on board [the Peregrine] as part of Berkeley's suite, and sketched the scene from life." This idea strikes me as daft beyond belief. Perhaps Monamy was towed behind the Peregrine on a long rope, so he could get in a good shot with his Hasselblad ?

On stylistic grounds, the painting in question could not have been painted until about 1733, at the very earliest, and quite possibly well after.

Ragnhild Hatton's comprehensive biography of George I
a thorough read is recommended

England's Rise to Greatness 1660-1763, 1983, p 213.
See R. Reynell Bellamy.

The political forces of history are either centripetal or centrifugal. The centripetal urge, right or left, is to unite. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer ! or Workers of the World, Unite ! Both are therefore fascistic. You can break a stick, but you cannot break a bundle: that is the message of the fasces. The centrifugal forces promote secession, freedom and independence. Authority is based on the support of the majority. Because there are more stupid people than wise, entrenched authority is nearly always wrong.

By industrious scribbling climb
Above all paintings maritime
And cast their message bold
Into another mould

à bout de souffle
à bout de souffle 34a
walpole's anecdotes
hervey & others on robert walpole
peter monamy and british art historians

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