Elisha Kirkall: Conclusions

Kirkall was a prolific and industrious engraver. He produced many different mezzotints and other engravings covering a wide variety of themes. Only his shipping prints are addressed here.

Although there had been marine prints after Isaac Sailmaker for some previous time, the first Englishman fully to realise the market for the shipping genre was Thomas Baston. The production of these engravings was stimulated, not by the van de Veldes, of whom the general public would barely have been aware, but by the groundswell of burgeoning interest among the merchants and seamen of London. The South Sea projectors, whatever the speculative frenzy they had engendered, were also vividly bringing home to the Londoner, with a vengeance, the paramount importance of sea power.

In 1720 Baston had been one of the subscribers to the St Martin's Lane Academy, where there was a strong emphasis on prints and engravings. I have yet to discover any early prints after the van de Veldes, although there are other early samples after Backhuysen. Baston clearly drew inspiration from numerous continental examples.

Baston's prints are singularly important as they reflect the growing taste for engravings among the rising middle classes, a section of the market whose interest in art was just awakening, and who could identify with the subjects he purveyed. Sailors, of all ranks, could actually pin these works up on board ship.

Kirkall was a more sophisticated operator than Baston, and he swiftly entered into competition. His better contacts would have given him an easier entry into the carriage trade he aimed for with his series of prints "after Vanderveld". He was also more unscrupulous than Baston, and although he was a skilled mezzotinter, it is evident he knew somewhat less about the sea, and the desire for accuracy characteristic of seafarers.

Few of the owner's names attached to his engravings are aristocrats. Nor are they seamen. They are middle-class gentlemen, merchants and would-be gentlemen, aspiring to display their familiarity with art; and would have been delighted to have their good taste and connoisseurship recognized. And promoted. Mr Walker is one among their number. Kirkall's enterprise would also have have suited Cornelius van de Velde, a long way from the glory days of his father and grandfather, who had basked in the approval and royal patronage of James II. The mezzotinter and the painter with the famous name would have found it mutually profitable to collude in marketing the van de Velde marque.

Laurentij Fashion Generosi

flag detail from print above right:
evidence that the original was by Cornelius

1707: the ensign has the union flag in its canton

another detail from this print:

cf monamy

Monamy's role in this conjectured business exploitation of Cornelius van de Velde by Elisha Kirkall has to be guessed at. There are two likelihoods, and both link up with the fact that although, by 1721, at the age of forty, he had "come into reputation" in the words of George Vertue, he still had to make a living, develop his skills and expand his market.

The first possibility is that he produced a selection of smaller paintings for Kirkall to use as the base for his engravings. Others would have been obtained from the leavings of Cornelius van de Velde for the same purpose. Kirkall then inscribed all his mezzotints with the van de Velde name, counting on his customers not to know the difference between the genuine and the spurious. The actual canvases would have been bought by the connoisseurs, pleased to have their discriminating taste and ownership recorded on the prints, for the ignorant to admire. There is always an element of collusion between the faker and his victim: neither wishes to acknowledge their fault.

The second possibility, which does not exclude the first, is that Monamy's attention was strongly drawn to the richer, growing market for the "van de Velde" type of painting, and that he set out from about 1725 to match his Dutch predecessor. This, in my view, is indicated by the modification of styles detectable in several of his works datable between about 1723-1729. Other non-van de Velde, Dutch or other continental influences are also discernible. By about 1732 he came to recognize that this was a false direction for him. He developed new interests, united at Vauxhall with Hogarth in adopting a more "indigenous" point of departure, and started to eliminate these elements from his oeuvre. Cornelius van de Velde was no longer in the London market. Kirkall fell out with Hogarth by pirating his Rake's Progress. Samuel Scott began to supplant Monamy in the carriage trade for the meretricious "marine" from the middle 1730s onwards.

Note: May 2016. A study by Remmelt Daalder, Van de Velde & Zoon, zeeschilders, first published 2013, establishes that Cornelius van de Velde died in London, or Holland, before 6 November 1714. The abov e comments should be adjusted accordingly.

Mr Thomas Walker contemplates his Vanderveld

kirkall: battles       kirkall: storms
kirkall: calms & breezes       kirkall: first rates
The Britannia and/or Royal Sovereign under way
The Royal William, or what?
assorted sterns

baston prints

prints, prints, prints
mezzotints       line prints
monamy website index

Kirkall also executed some marine mezzotints after van der Meulen
Print image courtesy Grosvenor Prints, London.


© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2002, 2007, 2016
all rights reserved