Peter Monamy & Samuel Scott

1681-1749                                                                   1702-1772

Samuel Scott; Painter of Ships and Sea Prospects


In contemplating the works of Scott it is, of course, essential to address the comprehensive catalogue raisonné by Richard Kingzett, published in the 48th volume of The Walpole Society, 1980-1982. This very thoughtful and detailed study was at least 30 years in the making, and its value is inestimable. It would hardly have been possible even to begin an assessment of Monamy's output without this prior work, which, together with the volumes by Robinson on the van de Veldes and David Joel on Brooking, finally enables one sensibly to compare and contrast, in the time-honoured phrase, the respective contributions of the most familiar English ship and sea painters of the first half of the 18th century.

Fort St George, Madras. 1732. Ships by Scott, buildings by Lambert

The first question tackled by Kingzett in his introduction is the extent to which Scott may justifiably be described as a "marine" painter. He points out that Scott had "become the brand name for all London views" datable to the period before his death in 1772. This is of course an exact parallel with the manner in which, for a period of 200 years, Monamy became a brand name for all early marine paintings not otherwise attributable. However, Kingzett then goes on to say that this branding "stemmed from a fundamental misconception of the true nature of his work", and here, with respect, I have to part company with his opinion.

The York Buildings Water Tower. c 1743

Kingzett remarks of Scott's contemporaries that "their comments strike a unanimously watery note". He cites Vertue (1684-1757), John Barnard (d.1784) and Archdeacon Cambridge, and, naturally, Horace Walpole, whose strident trumpeting of "Samuel Scott, painter of sea pieces ..... born for an age of naval glory, and equal to it" fell on remarkably deaf ears among genuine sailors, who had always been and always continued singularly unimpressed by Scott's maritime performances. Horace Walpole's self-appointed role as Scott's personal PR agent, in my view, at times becomes fanatical, even demented, in its intensity. He went to extreme lengths to promote the marine painter image of his protégé, otiosely scribbling on the back of fugitive sketches --- "A Lady with Hands Folded" and "A Cart with Horses and a Boy on a Mule", see Kingzett, p.94 --- the words: by Samuel Scott painter of sea-pieces.

    "A Lady with Hands Folded"
by Samuel Scott painter of sea-pieces

"A Cart with Horses and a Boy on a Mule"
by Samuel Scott painter of sea-pieces

The English are, admittedly, predominantly a literary rather than an artistic nation, but is it too much to expect that writers on artistic matters should rely in the first place on their eyes, before recycling the puffs of prejudice? Walpole's virtual obliteration of Monamy, and manic counter-promotion of Scott, runs level with his position as a permanent vilifier of Admiral Vernon. He was an "inveterate detractor of all that Vernon said or did", as comprehensively recorded by Cyril Hughes Hartmann in his well-researched 1953 biography of Vernon (p.105). The hapless Scott, who must have known by about 1735 that his talents and natural inclinations were inherently unsuited to the maritime genre, at any distance beyond a river shoreline, and quite evidently preferred to work on his urban landscapes and riverside calms, would have found himself caught like a fly in the web of a patron to whom he was inextricably beholden. No wonder he was ill-tempered, or as Horace puts it, "extremely passionate and impatient", for much of his life; an irascibility which cannot wholly have been due to the fact that he was "terribly afflicted with the gout". (Kingzett, p.6). Walpole gets on my nerves, too.

Old London Bridge. 1749
Scott painted 11 versions of this view, the first in 1747

Old London Bridge. 1753
See Maddison, J., Felbrigg Hall, 1995

The buildings in Scott's paintings, says Kingzett, "in the final analysis exist only as backdrops to water-borne activity. 126 of the 135 pictures in this Catalogue show water as their basic element either as the sea or the Thames." In one of the notes to his introduction, Kingzett adds: "Horace Walpole differentiating Scott from Van de Velde wrote 'He often introduced buildings in his pictures with consummate skill'". In truth, however, the exact opposite is the case. A glance at the paintings by Scott on this page will show, with crystal clarity, that Scott not infrequently introduced inland river water, usually of the utmost serenity and limpidity, into his urban landscapes. It is hardly necessary to stoop to calculating the percentage ratios of water to brickwork. Are these paintings supposed to be Prospectum marinorum? Moreover, even in his townscapes, the strictly limited "activity" of any kind is noticeable.

Westminster Bridge with Neighbouring Houses. c 1749

The oil paintings recorded in Kingzett's catalogue, by my reckoning, consist of 21 marines, 29 naval engagements, 65 riverside views and/or urban landscapes, and about 20 other paintings, miscellaneous and collaborative pictures, several of which are exclusively inland views and none of which could honestly be described as a marine. This tally does not take account of the many paintings which are near duplicates, or variations on a single theme. Of the 21 marines, one is the First Rate Shortening Sail, shown on the previous page; another described as Shipping in a Choppy Sea, signed and dated 1753.

English men of war & other vessels in Choppy Seas; 40½ x 59¼; Sotheby 12 March 1980
The catalogue gives no indication of signature or date: these are recorded by Kingzett: Marine U.

The remaining 19 paintings are all dead flat calms. Of these marines, Kingzett demonstrates that 7 are directly related to earlier drawings or paintings by van de Velde. The naval battles appear to be mainly works commissioned by aristocrats, or the families of naval celebrities, perhaps particularly the lady members, who were not concerned to apply maritime criteria to their appreciation of marine art. Robert Walpole was the first of these extremely wealthy patrons, although he would not personally have commissioned a painting depicting an English naval triumph like the taking of Porto Bello, glorifying his nemesis, Vernon.. It is clear that no more than about 35% of Scott's total output in oils can fairly be called "marine", and then only in a severely restricted and one-dimensional sense. Winds, weather, tides, gales, and the realities of ocean sailing had no significance for Scott. Only an art connoisseur, or a museum curator, would willingly describe him as a genuine marine painter.

Montagu House. c 1750

Here is an original summary of the life and work of Samuel Scott, contrasted with the career of Monamy, purged of preconception, cleansed of Walpoliana and the parroting of his toadies, based on known facts and visual evidence, tempered with a balance of strong and soundly justified probability.

The date and place of birth, parentage and early life and training of Scott are rather obscure, but it may be assumed that he was born in 1701/2, perhaps in Clerkenwell, London. In the ODNB Kingzett says he was "the son of Robert Scott (d. 1737), a barber-surgeon". By the time of his marriage in 1723 it can also be assumed that he had decided to make painting his career. At this date the obvious genre for a native Londoner uninterested in portraiture would have to be shipping, particularly with the notably successful example of Peter Monamy, who had just moved to Westminster from London Bridge, as a model. In spite of the fact that there is no indication at all of any maritime tradition or personal experience of the sea in Scott's life, he therefore set himself to excel at marine painting. He may also have been persuaded in this direction by the availability of drawings from the break-up of the van de Velde studio, supposedly carried on by Cornelius van de Velde, but obviously in steep decline at just about this time. Note: January 2017. It has fairly recently been established, by Remmelt Daalder, in Van de Velde & Son, that Cornelius van de Velde died in 1714.

The Tower of London. 1753

For the next decade, until about 1732, he devoted himself entirely to the marine genre, basing his work extremely closely on the calms of van de Velde. In this, his approach somewhat resembles the devotion of Robert Woodcock, who died in 1728, although his method was not to make virtually exact, if "modernized", copies, but to recycle passages from van de Velde drawings and oils. Monamy did the same, but to a much lesser extent, since his early training was far more deeply embedded in the local London traditions, and a large part of his oeuvre is completely indigenous in character. Scott's earliest dated marine, a calm of course, is from 1726. In 1727 he obtained what appears to be a sinecure in the Stamp Duty Office, which he held for the next 28 years. This paid 100 a year, the equivalent of about 10,200 at today's prices, tax-free, a useful supplement to his income from painting. For this income he was especially beholden to the Walpoles, at any rate in his early years, from about 1732.

Until about 1720 there is little solid evidence of any particularly close interest by Monamy in the works of van de Velde, except as occasional aids in specific circumstances. However, the appearance of 16 prints by Kirkall "after Vanderveld", and the rivalry and ambition of Scott, and Woodcock, would have prompted him to extend his style as well as his range, and it seems that during this period he began to apply himself to the depiction of shipping in storms and a great variety of other weathers, as well as to seek to imbue the genre with deeper significance and "judgement", in Hogarth's phrase. Scott would have found it impossible to extend his own range in a similar direction, as it is fully apparent that his development as a marine specialist was hampered by a deep-rooted physical aversion to the open sea.

The rivalry of Scott with Monamy would have come to a head in about 1732. Monamy's portrait depicts him holding a storm scene. Scott's portrait shows him holding what looks like a draft for a riverside calm. Both portraits and mezzotints date from about the same period, but only Monamy's mezzotint is dated 1731. It would be extremely interesting to know if the Monamy portraits precede Scott's, or whether they were in response to the self-promotion of a competitor, but it seems slightly more probable that Monamy's portrait was painted first. In fact, I have come to believe that in 1731 H. Vale may have been thought of by Monamy as his closest competitor. Kingzett dates Hudson's portrait of Scott to 1731-33.

As discussed elsewhere, the early 1730s amounted to a crisis period for Monamy's career. Scott secured the East India Company's commission for six topographical scenes in collaboration with Lambert in 1732, one of which is shown above. This, it may reasonably be suspected, would have come as an extremely unpleasant surprise to Monamy. Kingzett notes that the manner in which this important commission was secured by Scott and Lambert is "obscure". A passage from Jeremy Black's Walpole in Power, 2001, suggests a possible line of enquiry: "Some mercantile groups, such as the East India Company, had very close links with the (Walpole) ministry. .... Walpole also sought to influence London politics through his City friends .... (his) intention was clearly to limit the volatility and independence of popular London politics, and he sought to achieve his aim by means of legislative action and the definition of a favourable group through patronage and shared interests." p.84.

Not long after this, or perhaps simultaneously, the Walpole-Scott Club was formed, which involved Mr and Mrs Scott, Marcellus Laroon and various members of the Walpole family in frequent convivial soirées. Scott was probably more or less apolitical personally, but for a young fellow with strong commercial and social aspirations, hard cash, and the introduction to a new clientèle of immensely rich landowners, the Duke of Bedford (1738) and the Earl of Devon (1739) for instance, would have been overpoweringly persuasive. There is no doubt about Monamy's political and parliamentary orientation, and his alignment with the rising tide of Walpole opposition during the late 1730s would have been vexing enough for Horace to disparage for the rest of his life.

With the eruption of war in 1739 Scott's work was deflected from its natural development. A self-advertised marine painter, however meretricious, could not afford to have his patriotism doubted, and hence the battle scenes recording English triumphs. None, or exceedingly few, of these paintings, however, appear to have been commissioned by actual serving officers, although their assistance was successfully solicited. Monamy competed as well as he was able, but by 1745 he was no longer capable of his best. The Sausmarez family of Guernsey, and their cousins, the Jersey naval family of Durells, stuck by him to the end. Perhaps they couldn't afford Scott's prices, but in any case Scott's association with Walpole and, by implication, his politics, would have effectively put him out of contention so far as Sausmarez and Durell were concerned.

The pattern of Scott's progress after Monamy's death is obvious enough. His abandonment of the marine genre after the year of victories, 1759, was almost total. Kingzett records four paintings by Scott of attacks by fire-ships and fire-rafts at Quebec, before Wolfe's capture of the town in 1759. The dating of these paintings is not fully clear to me. One seems to have been exhibited in 1761. Two others may have been painted later. Kingzett remarks on the "archaic" features of one of the ship depictions, and adds: "Apart from the Cape of Good Hope pictures of 1757 which also show anachronisms it was ten years since Scott had tackled a naval action and out of touch with developments he has obviously used an earlier model". Kingzett also mentions that Dominic Serres "painted smaller versions with considerable differences, one of which is signed and dated 1767." This is of course not evidence that Scott painted these pictures in that year. Between 1758 and 1760, Scott is named as a ratepayer in Twickenham, and he was still a ratepayer there in 1765. From 1765 to 1769 he lived in Ludlow, moving to Bath for the last three years of his life.

The Drawing Room, Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk; furnished in the 1750s. Scott's paintings in situ.

Scott, said Walpole, was a painter "whose works will charm in every age". Pace Samuel Redgrave. He was a prosperous, ambitious and meticulous painter who took great pains with the design, preparation and finish of his works. This was a luxury available to those who had the financial security of the Walpoles wrapped around them. "The little man is so devoted to his art and so constantly improving in it", wrote Daniel Wray in 1750. (Kingzett p.6). He produced nice paintings, but they are not marines. Those who have bothered to take in the above points, and still persist in referring to Scott as "undoubtedly England's most eminent marine painter", even before 1740, need their use of terminology, aesthetic sensibilities and mental marbles examining.

The National Maritime Museum website has this to say about Scott: "Initially, Scott's works tended to the traditional subject matter of naval battles and shipping scenes on the Thames and he appears to have had good social skills and contacts which clearly helped his career"; and "His reputation chiefly rests on his topographical views of London but he was a very good marine painter ..... whose artistic and social skills eclipsed - at least in business terms - those of his slightly earlier contemporary Peter Monamy." Definition of the term "marine painting" is open to discussion. It seems useful to note, however, that Scott painted not a single naval battle scene before 1740, with the possible exception of the Battle of Cape Passaro, and the arrival in London of Canaletto intensified his interest in Thames-side river views. In my view, and those of others, Scott was not truly "a very good marine painter". Perhaps a twenty year difference in age can be described as "slight". Monamy's social, business, and aesthetic "eclipse" is something the Museum seems eager to emphasize. Never mind: greater painters than Monamy have been socially, aesthetically and financially eclipsed.

Pope's Villa, Twickenham, c 1760, by Samuel Scott, navium & prospectum marinorum pictor.

When Scott died in 1772, an epigrammatic epitaph was apparently circulated. The author of this sardonic rhyme, a kind of Clerihew, or proto-Limerick, can only be guessed at.

'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.

Had either William the Elder or Younger, the Dutch Vanderveldts, or even Cornelius van de Velde, been around at the time, they might have been diverted to hear it. Not to mention Peter Monamy. Was this a little joke intended for insider wits? There seems to be an ambiguity about the "painter of the town" so fam'd he was called the "English Vanderveldt". Add a punchline.

See here for further comment on Scott and Camaletto

S.Scott pinxt           Publishd Jan 1, 1803, by LAURIE & WHITTLE No 53 Fleet Strt. London           Morris Sculp

It looks as though Laurie & Whittle first produced this print, in the traditionally received Monamy manner, 30 years after Scott's death. But was the original by Scott, or a ringer? By "traditionally received", I mean in the manner traditionally imputed to, and then expected of, Monamy for about the last 100-200 years. In 1803 Laurie & Whittle obviously thought the picture was in the manner of Scott, or could sell as his. See here.

"... every man is a Judge of the Representation, in proportion as he is of the Original Subject; a Sailor, for instance, is a better Judge of the principle Circumstances which enter into the Composition of a Seapiece, than the best Painter in the World, who was never at Sea ..." Joseph Highmore.

"Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences." Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov, note to line 894.

"Life's a jest/And all things show it/I thought so once/And now I know it." John Gay, 1685-1732, Epitaph.

scott, walpole & canaletto
samuel scott: one       samuel scott: battles
article 1981       article 1983
monamy website index

mail here

© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003, 2005, 2007, 2015
all rights reserved