View of early 18th century Bristol: formerly ascribed to Monamy, now de-attributed

In more than one older book this rather strikingly composed townscape, entitled Broad Quay, Bristol, is attributed to Monamy. In A Concise History of the British Empire, 1970, by Professor Gerald S. Graham, it is credited to "Peter Monomay" (sic p.57). It is also reproduced in English Naive Painting, by James Ayres, 1980, and described on p.51 as by "an unidentified artist". When I spoke to the curator in Bristol, Katherine Eustace, about it, circa 1980, she said it was a very naïve picture, and couldn't possibly be by Monamy. The wonder is why it was ever given this attribution. Any attribution used to be possible, of course, remembering that the Victoria & Albert Museum repeatedly ascribed Scott's capriccio, the Old Custom House Quay, to Monamy for at least a hundred years. Although Monamy was rather more naïve than the Bristol curator probably believed, it does seem unlikely that he could have painted this view. Still, suspicions linger, and he did experiment, though he never matched Scott for brickwork. The above reproduction comes from The Life and Times of Queen Anne, by Gila Curtis.

View of Ludlow Town by Samuel Scott --- painter of sea pieces

'Twas late the death of Scot was known
A painter of the town,
Who for his art was so much fam'd
The English Vanderveldt was nam'd.


Spink Summer Exhibition 1980. 27½ x 35¼. Confidently attributed to Monamy.

Here is a striking subject. A distinguished connoisseur I spoke to at the time of the exhibition quickly expressed his opinion that the attribution was utterly ridiculous. Despite the impasto clouds. He had a low opinion of Monamy, of course, but why was the attribution ever made? Who else could this very competent painting be by? However, there are some odd features about it, in particular the pre-1707 flags within a performance far too polished to have been painted by Monamy within three years of gaining his freedom from William Clarke, the master signpainter. If this is by Monamy, it must have been produced in about 1720, at the very earliest; so why pre-date the flags? It does not, presumably, represent a historical event. And where is it meant to be: a gondola surrounded by English shipping? The suspicion must be strong that it is a pastiche by another painter, considerably later than Monamy. Mellish?

Was this a sight ever seen on the Thames? See here.


70 x 106. Very clearly signed P.Monamy pinx

The uniquely odd feature of this picture lies in what to my eye seem the strange proportions of the masts and sails to the main ship's hull. It looks almost as if an enlarged hull has been superimposed on a smaller ship, or one at a greater distance. It could, I suppose, be described as a portrayal of the "English Fleet", but the stretches of land to left and right do not in any way suggest "the Downs". After the Painter's Hall donation picture of 1726, it is almost certainly the next largest painting by Monamy extant. It is in exceptionally good condition, and highly finished, with a plainly readable signature in black. If forced to put a date on it, I would say it is relatively early, possibly even pre-1720. This might account for its compositional naïvety, the aimlessly strung-out shipping and other features. The stern, which looks early to me, might be checked for possible identification.

There is a theory that it is the picture from the Foundling Hospital, missing since 1909, which was described as a "large and beautiful sea-piece of the English Fleet in the Downs", delivered to the Hospital in 1748. To me it seems very unlikely that the painting shown here could be a product of Monamy's personal hand only a short time before he died, although it might, of course, have been a cancelled order hanging in his studio for many years previously. It might, perhaps, have been painted by Swaine, under Monamy's supervision. It is 14-15 inches less wide than the Brooking, which was painted to "match" or complement --- or outdo ---the Hospital's Monamy, and which is still in its collection. Compare the Brooking, below. Not exactly a "match".  

68¾ x 121, signed C.Brooking Pinx. Presented to the Foundling Hospital 1754. See Joel p.48


James, 3rd Earl of Berkeley. Admiral & Commander-in-Chief of HM Navy & Fleets, 1719.
50 x 40. Signed P.Monamy pinxt below the buoy

It is a puzzle why this painting should be signed only by Monamy, as it is extremely unlikely that he painted the portrait, which I believe is a copy, School of Kneller. Perhaps that is the reason: if the portrait was copied by another portrait painter, and Monamy added the shipping, then his work would be original, whereas the copyist would not have signed. It may have been painted about 1719, with the shipping detail added by Monamy in collaboration with the portrait copyist(s). The face and the clothing would very likely be by two different hands.

A visit to the National Portrait Gallery confirms that the original portrait of James, Earl of Berkeley, is by Kneller. It is one of the series of Kit-Cat Club portraits, 1702-1717, and the background shipping is only sketchily suggested in the original, which is one of the later in the series. The club was founded in the early 18th century by leading Whigs. If the copy was painted at the time of Berkeley's appointment as Commander-in-Chief, then Monamy, as London's most promising rising shipping painter and a Whig to boot, will have been asked to add the fleet.

The portrait's sitter in 1704 was "called by writ to the House of Peers in the lifetime of his father, by the title of Baron Dursley. In 1718 he was constituted first lord commissioner of the Admiralty, and was also vice-Admiral of Great Britain. ..... He was ..... an eminent naval officer, and distinguished himself in many gallant actions at sea under Admirals Sir George Rooke, and Sir Cloudesley Shovel." He died in 1736. Lord Hervey's Memoirs of the Reign of George II has this note: "Lord Berkeley was the Admiral who brought the late King (ie George I) over; born and educated a staunch Whig, and had never deviated a moment one step of his life from these principles. He had been of the late King's bedchamber, and at the head of the fleet during all the late reign. He was a man of great family and great quality, rough, proud, hard, and obstinate, with excellent good natural parts, but so uncultivated that he was totally ignorant of every branch of knowledge but his profession. He was haughty and tyrannical, but honourable, gallant, observant of his word, and equally incapable of flattering a Prince, bending to a Minister, or lying to any body he had to deal with." You might not guess it from looking at his picture.

see here for more portrait background shipping


26¼ x 54 . Signed Peter Monamy. Loading coal at Deptford. Auctioned 15 April 2015.

Could this painting really be by Monamy ? It appears utterly unlike any other picture known to be his. But these details have a distinct tincture of Monamy about them. What date might one suggest for this painting ?

Below is the same subject by J M W Turner: Keelman heaving in coals by night.


Could this painting detail really be by Monamy ?
It does have a distinct tincture of Monamy about it. What date might be suggested for it ?
The coastal fort is suggested as Walmer Castle, Kent.

Auctioned 25 March 2015. Unsigned. 45 x 57¼. First known provenance Bonhams, Old Master Paintings, 9th July, 2008. Ducks now attributed to James Barbut, 1711-1788.

The attribution to Monamy seems a little more likely than the attribution to Barbut. If the painting of the ducks is by Barbut, aged about 30, it may have been executed circa 1740-1744. This would seem possible, even probable. Monamy then aged about 65.

What about the picture beneath it ? This is titled "A gentleman taking leave of his family", and attributed to Monamy at the Harris Museum, Preston. There is no agreement on who painted the figures, except that they are not by Hogarth. What a pity: I would like them to be by Hogarth.

The figures seem to me to be about mid-1720s, when Monamy was about 45, more or less.

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