painting now attributed to cornelis van de velde

similar compositions

This and subsequent linked pages set out to tackle the intricate problems associated with what has come to be called the Royal Sovereign composition; ie a starboard quarter view of a major vessel juxtaposed with a smaller one, more often to the right of the picture, following a pattern recognizably established by the Younger van de Velde in his portrayal of the Royal Sovereign, dated to 1704, but perhaps painted 1703, and signed W.van de Velde J. Often, but not always, the main ship is flying a royal standard. It is not, of course, necessarily always a capital first-rate either; in fact, sometimes it is a yacht --- it is the painter's compositional approach which is initially significant, not the identity of the several different ships. The comments and sample painting below are transferred from the opening page of the website summary of the chronology and authenticity of works attributed to Peter Monamy. These paintings are organised by date, rarely but occasionally conjectural, on pages starting here, and a representative selection, omitting battle-plans and panoramas, is provided here.

As this section of the site develops and expands it is my surmise that it will become clearer and yet more clear that a very large quantity of paintings ascribed to Monamy in past years are not in fact by him. In order to have any hope of unravelling the confusion it is also, in my view, essential to bear constantly in mind that preconceived concepts of "quality" are of no help.

To the right is what many would consider an attractive marine calm. The composition is familiar from very many similar paintings, probably all ultimately deriving from a series of several paintings by the younger Willem van de Velde, of either the Britannia or the Royal Sovereign. See Michael Robinson, 1990, Vol 2, p.619. The composition was repeated, with infinite variation, by virtually all early 18th century native English artists, notably Woodcock, and Leemans, not to mention the Younger's son, Cornelius. Monamy's 1726 livery painting for Painter's Hall is in the same vein --- although appreciably different in conception.

Neither the palette colours, brushwork, nor the ship proportions would suggest that this painting comes from the Monamy studio, yet it is signed P.Monamy. This does not necessarily mean that it is not "authentic"; only that caution is strongly recommended. Other warnings and cautions here.


The procedure adopted on this site has been to establish the authenticity of Monamy's oeuvre by picking out works which are judged indubitable, by virtue of their location, signature, date, manner and theme, regardless of "quality", and in total disregard of their relationship, real or imagined, to works by other painters, van de Velde or anyone else. The problems associated with this oft-repeated composition of the Royal Sovereign now multiply exponentially. All following comment is highly tentative and subject to instant correction: please advise. There are few certainties among these banks and shoals.

The picture at left, above, is placed next to the Kirkall mezzotint only for compositional comparison, as the main ship and other details are obviously different. There appears to be some similarity, however, in the apparently exaggerated elongation of the masts. The rather highly coloured oil painting appears on the cover of Cockett's book, and on p.72, where its dimensions are given as 39¼ x 24¼. It was auctioned at Sotheby's, described as The Evening Gun, in about 1977 or 1978. The Kirkall mezzotint next to it is shown in the correct sense, unlike the previous one further up the page, which is shown in reverse. The significance of comparing a mezzotint or other engraving with an oil painting is that it may give some indication of which follows which. It is possible that the artist copied the print, and not vice versa. However, not all prints necessarily reverse their originals. See here for the complement of mezzotint calms by Kirkall, after "Vanderveld".

The Royal Sovereign on the Medway below Rochester Castle, 23 x 28, see also here.
Unsigned. Attributed to Monamy. Sotheby 8/4/1998, Lot 4

The background setting of the above composition, so far as I know, is quite original. The Royal Sovereign and her attendant yacht have been placed in an identifiable topography unreminiscent, to my knowledge, of any other work. The proportions of mast to hull of the main ship appear to be reasonably correct, although the yacht is certainly rather, or even much, too large, and there are other signs of naïvety, eg in the treatment of the union flag at the main. A "royal occasion" of some sort is indicated, since the yacht is flying a royal standard.

The auction house catalogue note for this picture thanks Mr Archibald for his help, and remarks that "the date of the ensign puts this painting between 1704 and 1707". The 1704 terminus reflects, of course, not "the date of the ensign" but Archibald's opinion that the composition follows the Younger's Royal Sovereign painting of 1703 or 1704. As repeatedly noted, 1707 was the year when the ensign canton changed from the cross of St George to the Union flag. If, therefore, the painting intends to depict a specific historical incident, for instance, it could have been painted at any time at all after 1707, and not necessarily before. I imagine there are hundreds of marine paintings depicting pre-1707 ensigns painted anything up to three centuries after the change, give or take 3 or 4 years.

Nevertheless, it is distinctly tempting to attribute this unsigned painting to Monamy at a fairly early stage in his career. The combination of the composition with the specific location, the staffage, the disproportionate size of the yacht, and Sailmaker-like treatment of the stern gilding, give it an unusual individuality. If it represents a particular occasion during the reign of Queen Anne it could have been painted by Monamy anything up to six or seven years after 1707. It is difficult to believe that the two pictures above are by the same hand, but, on the other hand as it were, it is possible that either or both are by some completely different painter. Neither manner fits very easily or naturally into the established oeuvre. If forced to choose, I would greatly prefer Monamy's to be the left-hand painting rather than the right. The appearance of the right-hand picture on the dust-wrapper of a book claiming to represent the painter's work, over a lifetime, is unfortunate. Perhaps it was accidental.

As always, the differences are more interesting than the similarities.
See also here.

royal occasions:     starboard quarters     port quarters
royal sovereign composition types:     one     two     relatively tall/narrow
royal sovereign composition types:     a. starboard     b. port     broad
royal occasions:     calm waters     fresh winds
thomas leemans
monamy site index


© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2003
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