Comment circa 1820. Click.


Swaine's Apprenticeship
Revised January 2013

From the NMM website (two or three years ago, but it may still be making the same assertions): "Much of Swaine's early life and training remains unknown. In 1735 he was working as a Navy Office messenger but whether this involved any time spent at sea is uncertain. Soon after, Swaine rejected this employ in order to become a marine painter. A stylistic similarity between his work and that of the successful and prolific marine painter Peter Monamy (1681-1749) has prompted suggestions that Monamy may have been Swaine's teacher and the fact that he married Monamy's daughter tends to support this. Their son Monamy Swaine (active circa 1769-94) was also a marine painter. Swaine was also greatly influenced by the example of Dutch 17th-century masters, from whose work he regularly drew. For example, his painting of 'The yacht Royal Escape' is a version after a painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707; both in the National Maritime Museum, London)." See Swaine & van de Velde.

Let's look at this passage. Let us surmise that the Francis Swaine who was baptised at St.Botolph's without Aldgate, London, on 22 Jun 1719 was the man who became the marine painter, "pupil of Monami", who died in 1782. See here. A boy, Monamy Swaine, is recorded as baptised at St Dunstan's, Stepney, on 27 Feb 1754. The parents, Francis and Mary, are named. I published this fact in the Monamy exhibition catalogue in 1983. It thus surprised me, a little, to read in the NMM's website biography of Monamy Swaine, twenty years later, that: "The first documented record of him is at the 1769 exhibition of the Free Society of Artists, in which he is described as 'Mr. Swaine Junior', giving rise to scholarly speculation that he might have been born in the early 1750s." My finding wasn't speculative, and I was not a scholar. Well, I was only an exhibitioner. Let it pass.

If Francis was the Swain(e) born in 1719 he would have been 16 when he got a job as a Navy Office messenger lad. This would seem reasonable enough, in those times. The NMM doesn't care to supply any scholarly evidence for its categoric statement that: "Soon after, Swaine rejected this employ in order to become a marine painter", but perhaps someone has found a marine painting, signed Swaine, dated 1736. The idea that the Francis Swain(e) who was a Navy Office messenger is the same Francis Swaine who became a marine painter is open to very serious question.

In fact, it can be totally discarded, in spite of the fact that not only is it stated by the NMM, but also the ODNB, whose concern for biographical accuracy when it comes to C18th marine painters is virtually nil. The will of a Francis Swain, who may have been the Navy Messenger, although this remains to be confirmed, was proved "at London the seventh day of August in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty six", and he left all his goods to his dear and loving wife Ann Swain. The couple lived in Whitechapel. [Update, January 2013: this man is now shown to have been the marine painter's father. His wife was unable to sign her name, and may be presumed to have been illiterate.]

Francis Swaine, marine painter, contrariwise, was busily painting away through the 1760s and 1770s.

There is, to my knowledge, no hard and fast evidence of Swaine's involvement in the world of maritime art until his marriage, 29th June 1749, at Allhallows, London Wall, to a possibly pregnant Mary Monamy, four months and three weeks after Peter Monamy's burial. See here. But the very strong probability is that Swaine took up painting some time in the decade before Monamy's death. Born in 1725, he very probably joined the Monamy studio at age of about 15, in, say, 1740, or perhaps a couple of years earlier. When Monamy died, this Francis Swaine (and there are several) moved rapidly to assert his possession of the remains of the studio, the strongest evidence being his very prompt issue of a print of the Nottingham takes the Mars, in 1750 (see here]; as well as his equally swift marriage to Mary Monamy.

Now to the painting of the Monmouth's capture of the Foudroyant. The NMM says that Swaine's "work was an interpretation of ideas made popular in England by Willem van de Velde the Younger's, but shows an informed knowledge of English shipping. The painting is signed but not dated." It can hardly be doubted that the painting was executed fairly soon after the event, although, of course, conceivable that it was not produced until years later. If I knew the date of issue of the Gentleman's Magazine which included Cole's engraving, or the dates of the other engravings after Swaine's interpretation, a reasonably precise terminus could be established. By 1763 the Anson family evidently handed at least one of their marine commissions to Swaine. See here.

Royal Escape: click here

go to second part
go to swaine four: january 2013

timeline 4: 1755 onwards       francis swaine
later battle prints after swaine
swaine & monamy, not van de velde
monamy website index
monamy print-based index
phlegmatic performances

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2013, 2015
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