monamy website index

Scanned directly from The London Gazetteer, February 9th, 1749

"..... a scholarly myth can spread 'like a computer virus' until it becomes accepted historical fact."
Helen Morales, TLS, May 15, 2009, p 11

"Harold Osborne proposes that works of art are objects 'adapted to sustain aesthetic contemplation
in a suitably trained and prepared observer' --- obviously a useless definition ."
John Carey, What Good are the Arts ?, 2005, p 15

Popery and Painting

Some Comments

Perhaps the hidden agenda of art these days is political. In the C17th, C18th, and C19th it was no doubt also political, but with a heavy overlay of religion, which was more or less the same thing. European painting served the papacy, to whom it was beholden, and whose intent was to exercise its power to determine all things, including the rotation of the sun. Regular payment secured an indulgent ticket to heaven.

The aim of any honest modern art historian must be to start a discussion of marine painting, not as a negligible genre, inferior to soiled Madonnas and dead Christs from Italy, unworthy of attention by elevated art historians, suitably trained and prepared by the Courtauld Institute, and similar bodies, but as of supreme significance in the genuine history of British art.

I must have been dimly aware of this in 1981, when I noted that the elements of Monamy's ancestral background were "identical with those that led to the establishment of British supremacy as a sea power, and to the foundation of the British Empire. They include the inheritance of an immensely deep-rooted mercantile maritime tradition; the industry and ambition of the dispossessed Huguenot exiles, allied to the commercial drive of all those impoverished by the Civil War and its aftermath; fervent anti-French, anti-Catholic, anti-Stuart feelings; and correspondingly powerful emotions of patriotic nationalism."

The article making this lamentably unacceptable political assertion ends with a note pointing out that Horace Walpole, "4th Earl of Orford, author and wit, was born in Arlington Street 1717 and died 1797. His ancestry included a number of eminent Jesuits. His great-grandfather, Edward Walpole, was prominent at the Restoration of Charles II. He went on the Grand Tour 1739-1741 and was enamoured of continental art and culture. He was invariably the strenuous defender of his father Sir Robert Walpole, for whom he had a life-long reverence."

The interesting study published by Clare Haynes in 2006, entitled Pictures and Popery, poses this question: what is "the explanation for the seeming contradiction of a militantly Protestant nation such as England, [having] a high regard for Catholic art ?" In addition the point is made that "the fact that a great deal of Catholic art was so highly regarded and sought after seems puzzling." The short answer had been provided by Elizabeth Einberg, in 1987, namely that the Virtuosi of St Luke, a group of self-appointed art arbiters, contained "several Tories and Roman Catholics". Einberg draws attention to this in Manners & Morals: Hogarth & British Painting 1700-1760, but only in passing. The even shorter answer must be that "art" was the medium whereby Catholic Jacobites and Stuart adherents endeavoured to mount their counter-thrust to the Glorious Revolution.

In spite of the fact that Bernd Krysmanski has recently pointed out that Hogarth appears to be numbered among the Virtuosi portrayed by Gawen Hamilton, though hitherto his features have been thought to be those of George Vertue, he cannot be said to have approved of the bulk of the Virtuosi, and was devoted to encouraging native painting. He resented the often fake papist rubbish being imported by Lord Burlington and the dilettanti. Roy Strong would have approved of Burlington. Strong's epigraph in the ridiculously titled The Spirit of Britain announces that Britain's cultural roots are located in the civilisation of Rome. Drivel. The spirit of Britain is not to be found in the purlieus of Rome, but among the mariners of England: "Blake, Candish, Drake, men void of slavish fears".

For Monamy, Rome would have been the origin of all that was vile and barbaric. There is little doubt that the first Monamy in the Channel Islands, circa 1520, was a Marrano or Converso who, along with up to a million others, had fled the Roman Catholic Inquisition, either from Spain or Portugal, perhaps via Rouen, not wishing to be burnt alive. Tennyson had the right idea, when he wrote of the "Inquisition Dogs, and the Devildoms of Spain".

Marine painting, however, by anyone, let alone Monamy, does not once feature in Clare Haynes' Pictures and Popery. This is understandable, since English marine painting does not qualify as "art", by those who have been suitably trained and prepared to judge. Marine painting, nevertheless, of whatever country, is second to none as the natural anti-popery art genre. Clare mentions landscape, once, on pp 21- 22, and quotes Addison: "'Tis Liberty that crowns Britannia's Isle". It does not seem to be recognised that it was Britannia's rule of the waves that crowned her Liberty. Marine painting is therefore ignored.

The situation is muddled and complicated by Their Catholic Majesties, Charles and James, munificently patronising the van de Velde father and son. The van de Veldes spent approximately fifteen years under the wings of Charles II and the Duke of York, later James II. On the arrival of William III in 1688 they were banished from Greenwich, and do not seem to have received any further royal commissions, although the Younger appears to have retained his 100 annual pension until his death in 1707. The eight paintings below should be enough to show that Monamy had virtually nothing in common with the van de Veldes. The Elder van de Velde was a ship draughtsman; Monamy was a sign-painter, and therefore a communicator. They did both paint ships at sea. Monamy was committed to England's Glory: van de Velde sought and took employment with whomever paid best.

Selection of genuine paintings by Monamy
Van de Velde's paintings are about the ships. Monamy's paintings are not about the ships.

These were the paintings that made J.M.W.Turner a painter.

Horace Walpole says that William III took little interest in the arts. I don't think Horace is completely correct. He seldom is. Although there doesn't seem to be any direct proof of the Elder van de Velde's alleged treachery against the Dutch, he definitely seems to have fallen out of favour with William III. See here.

The John Robertson Bonhams sale catalogue of 9 July 2014, is a publication of interest. The painting signed Monamy on page 62 of the catalogue, lot 121, was atrociously catalogued. It is flying the Hanoverian Standard, incorporating the white horse of Hanover,. It was probably painted at the re-launch of the Peregrine in 1733, and possibly even later, but commemorating the initial accession of the House of Hanover in 1714. The picture shows the enthusiastically received arrival of George I, consistently appreciated by Protestant and patriotic Englishmen during his reign as king. It is tempting, with regard to the style of this picture, to attribute it to a very early work by Charles Brooking. It would then have to be dated to about 1745. Brooking certainly painted a quite similar picture, which was erroneously thought for a long time to portray Harwich.

About 1733, with the rise of Walpole, and the Excise Crisis, the situation became uncomfortable for Monamy. He was a key player representing the patriotic opposition to the Walpole regime. This opposition, then supported by Prince Frederick of Wales, vigorously sought the world-wide expansion of English trade, and the downfall of Spain, accompanied by the downfall of France; as well as rejection of the Papacy and the Roman Catholic church. London merchants and naval officers were tremendously eager to let the fleet loose, across the Atlantic. This aspect of the history needs to be addressed, and the pictures reflecting the situation should be placed in context. The objective perceptions of British art historians have been completely misguided for at least the last 300 years.

Sir Robert Walpole presented himself as a Whig, but he was actually the original Vicar of Bray (1734) who adopted whatever ideology was most advantageous to him at the time. Rather like Tony Blair, or Harold Wilson. The Walpoles were a family of profoundly committed Roman Catholics. Their ancestral tree contained six, SIX, Jesuits, including a martyred Roman Catholic saint. Premier Minister Robert Walpole's own grandfather had been exceptionally prominent at the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, and was knighted by Charles II as a reward. During his lengthy ministry, Sir Robert Walpole did his level best to stay friends with Spain. Jonathan Swift described him as the "spaniel of Spain". He was otherwise believed to be a notoriously corrupt politician. George Vertue was a low-profile Roman Catholic, and a committed supporter of the Stuart dynasty. Unlike Monamy. The lines of patriotism were not drawn according to Whig or Tory political parties, however. There were patriotic Tories, such as Thornhill and Samuel Johnson, and unpatriotic Whigs.

On page 84 of Pictures and Popery Clare Haynes remarks that Horace Walpole's Sermon on Painting (1742) which forms part of the Aedes Walpolianae, was intended in part "to eulogise his father, Sir Robert Walpole". Sir Robert was presented thus: "see the Great Moses himself ! the Lawgiver, the Defender, the Preserver of Israel". Haynes contends that Horace was "trying to develop a specifically and theoretically cogent, Protestant approach to art in the Sermon." I doubt that, frankly. More like a specifically Roman Catholic approach.

No books on British art history, in general, address the significance of marine painting, and the parts played by Monamy and Scott, on opposite political sides, up to the overthrow of Walpole in 1742. Scott was a Walpole bought poodle. Horace was almost demented in his praise of Scott as a marine painter. This was to set him up as a rival to Monamy, who was dedicated to the Walpole opposition, and, concurrently, anti-George II. Monamy appears never to have had a particular patron, and this makes him, along with Hogarth, almost unique among 18th century painters --- outside portraiture. As a painter, Hogarth had slender merit ---- according to Horace.

Horace Walpole's influence on Anglo-American art historians is considerable, disastrous and pernicious. There is the "Walpole Society" in England, and the "Lewis-Walpole Library" in America. By the turn of the 18th century various people had seen through him. These included Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, Lord Macaulay, and John Wilson Croker, in spite of the strong animosity between Croker and Macaulay. Croker, a great friend of the Duke of Wellington, was secretary to the Admiralty for more than twenty years. He was of the opinion that Horace Walpole had "poisoned the minds of posterity". Walpole's favourite, Samuel Scott, was not well regarded in the mid-19th century. However, towards the end of the 19th century, Walpole became re-habilitated in the minds of art historians. The damage that he did to Monamy's reputation was substantial. Walpole allegedly based his account on the notes of George Vertue. Although Vertue was a Roman Catholic, and a committed supporter of the Stuart dynasty, and although there are faults in his account, notably in his misleading emphasis on "all the tackles, ropes and sails", he does not seem to be blatantly derogatory. He wrote a total of 326 words on Monamy's life and work. These were compressed into 110 words by Horace Walpole, and they are subtly chosen. Poisonous, in effect. By the end of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th, their poison was working.

.... by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time
And cast the kingdom old
Into another mould

Recent art auction prices. According to The Daily Telegraph, April 11 2016, the following sums were paid for these painters: Bacon $142.4 million; Warhol $105.4 million; Rothko $86.9 million; Pollock $58.4 million; Lichtenstein $95.4 million. What is the top price ever paid for a van de Velde marine ? Or any marine ? Perhaps Lot 33, Christie's, 13 Dec 2000, 1,569,000 ? See The Fresh Breeze, by James Mitchell, 2010, p 12.

See also Time, April 11 2016, p 48; Chinaman's fake Rothko, $8.3 million, sold in 2004, to Domenico De Sole, Chairman of Sotheby's. A sense of unreality descends.

See here for Ruskin on van de Velde, and the Dutch.

The above argument is not concerned with taste, or relative merit, in painting.
I much prefere Vermeer, Rembrandt and Bakhuysen to Freud, Bacon, and Warhol,
let alone Alfred Wallis.

Opinions may only be expressed by those suitably qualified to give opinions.
"The picture's value is the picture's price"

An Explanation for the Rise of Monamy. See here.

monamy website index
monamy anomalies       monamy problems
a modern eye-stretching account
à bout de souffle
walpole's anecdotes
hervey & others on robert walpole
peter monamy and british art historians
politics, religion, painting
peter monamy's best
walpole opposition
patronage & painting

mail here


© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016
all rights reserved


"It is difficult not to impute great beauty to paintings that are the highest-priced, equally hard not to downgrade art that is cheap"
Martin Gardner, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, p 77