The greatest historical heresy that a writer can commit in the eyes of many English readers is to tell them the truth.
Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee, 1747 - 1813, author, translator and lawyer.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear
In a world of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
Truth is treason in an empire of lies.
George Orwell, 1903 - 1950


September 2016


A book has recently been published which sets out to demonstrate that "marine painting was a vital and engaging part of British culture." This mostly beautifully illustrated work, of 298 substantial pages by multiple authors, "surveys this genre as it developed in tandem both with the British maritime empire and with the art world of eighteenth century London, where artists such as Peter Monamy, Samuel Scott, Dominic Serres, and Nicholas Pocock exhibited their work alongside history paintings, portraits, and landscapes." A valiant effort, on which the jury is out. The dates of those mentioned are: Monamy, 1681-1749; Scott, 1702-1772; Serres, 1722-1793; Pocock, 1740-1821. Numerous other marine painters, sadly, are rather cursorily treated. It has to be said that this survey is oddly limited in its range, and in the unrepresentative nature of many of the paintings it has selected to illustrate the work of the painters it mentions. Two paintings are attributed to Monamy, one on page 160, and one used as the frontispiece, which I consider of excessively dubious authority and provenance. See here.

Enormous swathes of the oeuvre of Monamy, as, for instance, his panoramas of Alicante, Barcelona, Dunkirk, Gibraltar, Greenwich, Guernsey, Jersey, Louisbourg, Lisbon, Constantinople, are completely ignored; not to mention many of his spectacular storm scenes. But these do not fit the hitherto traditionally received impression of Monamy's output, bearing no resemblance at all to anything by the van de Veldes. They are nevertheless wholly and genuinely representative of his work. The only example of Swaine's output is illustrated on page 25; and I cannot think of a less typical piece by this prolific painter.

Before setting out, in turn, to survey this publication, may I invite any readers of these lines to visit the obituary for Peter Monamy, scanned in from The London Gazetteer of 9th February, 1749, and then return to this page ? Incidentally, The London Gazetteer was founded in 1748. See London Newspapers in the Age of Walpole, by Michael Harris, 1987, page 49.

With that out of the way, it is only left to note that the obituary was presumably not read by George Vertue or Horace Walpole; or, if so, was immediately shut out of their minds.

The errors previously listed can be described as mostly innocent, and result from misplaced faith in the accuracy and reliability of the notices penned by Vertue, Walpole and the DNB. Further errors derive from the casual indifference or incompetence of those posing as custodians of our naval heritage. Art history is not history, but the smug perpetuation of self-regarding "taste". As every culture vulture knows, a work of art is "adapted to sustain aesthetic contemplation in a suitably trained and prepared observer." So, are you suitably trained and prepared ?

Prior to 1980 almost all the published statements about Monamy consisted of guesswork, supposition and prejudice, unsupported by insight or research. The statements made on this page, and website, have been preceded by dedicated and rigorous research, beginning in 1979.

A quote from Fake ? The Art of Deception; published 1990, edited by Mark Jones, page 130: "The New York Customs, for example, have listed in their files the import into the United States between 1909 and 1951 of the stupendous number of 9,428 works by Rembrandt." Rembrandt is believed to have painted abour 350 pictures during his entire life.

First, a few passages that caught my eye.

Item, left, from page 9 of the survey. The Navy messenger named Swaine died in 1755. He was the father of Francis the painter, 1725-1782, who was Monamy's undoubted pupil from 1740-1749.

The idea that Francis Swaine, the esteemed marine painter, had served as a Navy messenger, and had never worked in Monamy's studio, has profoundly muddled and distorted the history of English marine painting. This critical misunderstanding is completely unrealized in the work under examination.

Swaine's father, 1691-1755, who applied to become a Navy Messenger on 5th March, 1734, related in his letter of application to the principal Officers and Commissioners of His Majesty's Navy that he had previously served "upwards of twenty-eight years" in the Navy, at home and abroad. He mentions his five small sickly children and his "little labours in drawing, and other things". See The National Archives, ADM 106/875. His signature, below.

Below, left, is a brief excerpt from page 111 of the Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiase, 1981; followed by a quote from the book being examined, page 157.

"Their second child, a boy", in the upper quote, weirdly becomes "their second son", in the lower. Anna Maria Swaine was baptised on 27 Jan 1750/51, and Monamy Swaine on 27 Feb 1753, both at Saint Dunstans's, Stepney. Should 1753 read 1754 ?

This quote, left, from page 155, has been edited, to a certain degree, possibly by some regrettable oversight.

Vertue's actual words, scanned in from Volume III of the Vertue notebooks, published by The Walpole Society in 1934, are given below. The comparison makes interesting reading. The authorship of the changes and omissions in the version at left is not made fully clear.

A point of interest is that Vertue's "other famous masters of painting in this manner, VandeVelds &c" has been surreptitiously changed to read "the famous masters ... Vandevelds &c." This alteration seems designed to stress the relatively spurious importance of the van de Velde family with regard to Monamy's paintings. Vertue was clearly aware that there were quite a number of other influences on Monamy's performances.

Vertue's account contains several factual errors. He was obviously not an aficionado of marine painting. It should be noted he was an unobtrusive Roman Catholic, and a dedicated Stuart royalist.

Which observations are to be accepted, and which errors ignored ?

Vertue's emphasis on the tackles and ropes of ship painting comes from his recent notice of Monamy's donation, 1748, to the Foundling Hospital. It was only at the end of his life that Monamy's circumstances became indifferent.

Monamy was actually 68 years old when he died. The insertion of the words "Pictor Londini" is of more interest than its omission in the work at hand. Monamy's move to Westminster was obviously nothing at all to do with "viewing the Water & Sky". He had made many excursions "to wards the Coasts & sea ports of England", as self-contradicting Vertue also notes. The reason for Monamy's residence first in Fish Yard, and then next to King Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey, was partly commercial, but primarily political.

Vertue's phrase, "put to ordinary painting", has been seized on with delectation by those who regard art as an occupation ideally reserved for gentry. Poisonous Horace Walpole felt it necessary to underline that Woodcock was "of a gentleman's family". However, Monamy was apprenticed to a past Master of the Painter-Stainers Company, a body who, in 1696, regarded themselves as fully the equal of any painters whatsoever. When, earlier, they decided to spruce up their hall, they employed artisans from outside their own ranks, as pertinently noted by Alan Borg. See The History of the Worshipful Company of Painters, page 53. Unfortunately, these workmen proved incompetent.

It seems a little odd, in a history of C18th English painting, of whatever genre, that there is no mention at all, in the index or the selected bibliography, of Borg's comprehensive history of the Painter-Stainers Company.

Foundling Hospital. On page 5, it is mentioned that "Monamy and Scott were among artists who contributed works in the 1740s and were in return elected governors of the hospital." Although Monamy's delivery of his donation in May, 1748, ten months before his death, in the company of Thomas Gainsborough and Samuel Wale, is formally recorded in the minutes of the hospital, there is no evidence that Scott, in spite of agreeing to make a similar donation, ever delivered as promised. See Treasures of the Foundling Hospital, p 21, by Benedict Nicolson, 1972.

Now to the main burden of this engaging book. According to the index, Monamy is mentioned and discussed on 36 pages of this 248 page study. Approximately 70 pages are devoted to the van de Velde family studio, with copious illustrations of their works throughout the volume. This "studio" died with the death of the Younger van de Velde in 1707, if not of that of his father, in 1693. Is it unrealistic to suspect that the intention of this book, although it purports to treat of eighteenth century British marine painting, is to repeat the mantra that, in the words of The Oxford History of English Art 1625-1714, published in 1957 by Whinney and Millar: ".....the styles of Scott and Peter Monamy, and ultimately of all the English marine artists of the eighteenth century, were formed entirely on that of the Van de Veldes." ??? Page 275. The truth is that the the first 50 years of the C18th are treated in an extraordinarly unresearched and casual manner, with no attention whatsoever paid to the deep divisions in the competing social, political and aesthetic ideologies of the time.

It is pleasing, of course, to note the change in tone, compared with that in past surveys of marine painting, with which Monamy has been treated in this weighty publication. Nevertheless, the dead hand of Geoffrey Callender, as its owner follows the lead of Horace Walpole, can still be felt to be weighing in. See below. Eighty years ago Callender was parrotting the views of Walpole, and those views, denigration of Monamy, extravagant praise of Scott and unbridled worship of van de Velde, still hold sway with the average art historian, and his unquestioning mind.

At left is an angel, or a saint, scanned in from Horace Walpole's Ædes Walpolianæ, second edition 1767, which lists the paintings in Premier Robert Walpole's picture collection. The point is that C18th art is intrinsically political. Marine painting is a Protestant genre, ideally practised by Protestant nations, such as England and Holland. The truth about the van de Veldes is that they were bought in by the Roman Catholic totalitarians, James, Duke of York, and King Charles II. This is imperfectly understood by the majority of art historians, most of whom are inadvertently, and largely subconsciously, endorsing a Papist backlash. Marine painting, apart from the works of the poodle van de Veldes, is therefore ignored, with an exception made for Samuel Scott, a spaniel of the Walpoles, just as Sir Robert was the spaniel of Spain.

"The Character of Sir Robert Walpole"

With favour and fortune fastidiously blessed,
He's loud in his laugh and coarse in his jest;
Of favour and fortune unmerited vain,
A sharper in trifles, a dupe in the main.
Achieving of nothing, still promising wonders,
By dint of experience improving in blunders;
Oppressing true merit, exalting the base,
And selling his country to purchase his peace.
A jobber of stocks by retailing false news;
A prater at court in the style of the stews;
Of virtue and worth by profession a giber,
Of juries and senates the bully and briber:
Though I name not the wretch you know who I mean
'Tis the cur-dog of Britain and spaniel of Spain.

Disputed authorship, but probably Dean Swift, 1731.
By 1734 Robert Walpole had become The Vicar of Bray.
This is quite apparent from its lyrics in The British Musical Miscellany, Volume I, 1734.

See here. And here.

Pages 17-39 are unfortunately penned by an art historian with only a nodding knowledge of marine painting.
Enough, now, of this scrutiny. Monamy's sales pitch: "Second only to Van de Velde" has misled many.
He was certainly not crudely declaring himself an "emulator", as asserted on page 157.

From Masters of Maritime Art, 1937; Introduction by Geoffrey Callender
As a historian, art or maritime, Callender was an unmitigated disaster.
A deft politician, however.

slavish ----- a word to conjure with !

Der ständige Vergleich, der heute gerne zwischen Ludolf Backhuysen und Willem van de Velde angestellt wird, und die angebliche Konkurrenz-Beziehung, die ihnen nachgesagt wird, wurde grösstenteils in diesem Jahrhundert konstruiert und ist irrelevant.

A curriculum vitæ for Peter Monamy: see here.

Finally: Frederick Peter Seguier, A Critical & Commercial Dictionary, 1870
not especially on target, but too informed to write total rubbish

still obsessed with van de velde, and shore calms

British art history has been grotesquely and mendaciously distorted over the centuries since 1750 by self-regarding arbiters of taste. The Courtaulds, dedicated Huguenot refugees, must be turning in their graves. Roy Strong, in The Spirit of Britain, a narrative history of the arts, 1999, makes this supremely fatuous assertion: "The landscape looms large, and yet ironically England's economic greatness was owed to the sea, to maritime endeavour, but there is no great literature of the sea, nor great school of marine painters."

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath, nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

The Ancient Mariner

Homer also nods, alas. Errors in The Call of the Sea, 2009, an exhibition catalogue, are too ghastly to overlook or ignore. See pp 26, 55, and, a lesser one, p 51. The infection, though inexcusable, was caught from Cockett, Peter Monamy, 2000, p 66. Its nature may be detected by those interested.

monamy website index
john wood             m.w.knott
harry parker's work of fiction
chronology 1680-1754: published 1983
masters of maritime art
eminent experts
howlers and bloomers
protestant painting
british art history 1   monamy explained   british art history 2

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016
all rights reserved

The most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.
George Orwell: 1945



Here is a sentence, p 96, from Empire of the Seas, 2009, by Brian Lavery, Curator Emeritus, NMM, Greenwich.

"Peter Monamy from Jersey started by copying the van de Veldes".

Stupefying. The London birth, and Guernsey ancestry, of Peter Monamy was established,
and even recorded by Archibald, 30 years before 2009.

Monamy neither started nor finished "by copying the van de Veldes".

monamy website index
a bout de souffle 28
a bout de souffle 23
monamy explained