Visitors to Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon admiring a maritime prospect, 1786.

an anachronistic collage

most inventions were already invented

Monamy & Theatre

For much of what follows on this page I am greatly indebted to information provided by Alison Barnes, whose knowledge of the Winstanley family is unrivalled. These remarks are merely preliminary thoughts, based on the possibility that Monamy may have spent at least part of his early years, like several other contemporary painters, in providing scenery for theatrical performances.

In 1695, or perhaps in the following year, Henry Winstanley, the architect of the world's first practical offshore lighthouse on the Eddystone rock, founded the Mathematical Water Theatre. Monamy's self-evident interest in the Eddystone towers (he painted at least three pictures of them), coupled with a detectable underlying theatrical influence in the presentation of some of his paintings, leads to speculation that he may have been actively involved, perhaps particularly in the early part of his career, in scene-painting. The Mathematical Water Theatre, clearly a forerunner of de Loutherbourg's celebrated Eidophusikon, would have been an obvious venue for the production of background maritime scenery.

After Henry Winstanley's death in the Great Storm his widow eventually re-opened the Water Theatre in 1709. Alison Barnes has pointed out to me that on the 9th June, 1715, the Daily Courant carried an advertisement for the presentation at the Theatre of a spectacle featuring "Sea Fights with Ships". Both the date and the subject suggest that this would be precisely the kind of production for which Monamy, in common with Hayman, Lambert and Laguerre, who did similar work, would have painted the background scenery. There will probably be no way of proving this, failing the discovery of a book of accounts, which would be astounding.

Here are a series of advertisements, or publicity items, for performances scheduled for the Mathematical Water Theatre, researched by Alison Barnes:

1711, June 20, The Spectator: a theatre advertisement mentions that that evening there would be several Sea Triumphs depicted.
1711, August 7, The Spectator: mentions a Sea Triumph.
1712, May 2, The Spectator: mentions Sea-Gods and Goddesses, Nymphs, and Mermaids.
1712, May 5, The Spectator: says There is a new Sea Triumph containing thirteen figures.
1712, July 7, The Spectator: says 2 flying Boys are to attend the new Sea Triumph, one with a flaming torch which plays a large sheet of water, and the other with a Neptune Trident.
1713, June 30, The Guardian: says there was to be A Tempest of Thunder and Lightning with Fire mingling with many Cascades of Water.
1713, August 17, The Guardian: the Water Theatre to show Syrens singing upon the Rocks.

Setting for a play by Calderón, 1690
from A Concise History of the Theatre, by Phyllis Hartnoll

"Calderón", writes Hartnoll, "was a subtle writer and a most excellent craftsman, and his plays were destined to exert an important influence on the European theatre ..... which penetrated even to England." Not sure if the above setting was for a performance in England.

The Capture of Porto Bello, November 1739
Hand-coloured print, 1743, after Monamy's Vauxhall painting

The theatrical attitudes struck by the foreground figures in many of Monamy's shore views have more than a whiff of scene-painting about them. Monamy's works inspire a great deal of whiffle, waffle and piffle which often seems inescapably theatrical.

Walter Thornbury, in his Life & Correspondence of J.M.W.Turner, 1877, p.112, has some comments on Loutherbourg. "Loutherbourg, who was born in Strasbourg in 1730, came to England in 1771; was made an Academician in 1779, when his future admirer (ie Turner) was only four years old; and died in 1812, a year or so before Turner went to live in Twickenham. ... Loutherbourg was Garrick's chief scene-painter. His effects of tempest and fire led to many of Turner's efforts in the same manner. Wright of Derby, in his lamplight effects, was merely imitating in a vigorous way Schalken and other Dutch painters; but Loutherbourg was one of the first to carry such effects into the region of landscape painting; and Turner, who was too cautious to tell many secrets, was not too proud to learn of anyone.

The origin of the Eidophusikon is to be sought in the reduction of De Loutherbourg's salary as a scene-painter for Covent Garden on Garrick's retirement from the stage.

De Loutherbourg excelled in representing clouds; and in this exhibition their varied motion and density were accurately reproduced. ... the 'picturesque by sound' was also theatrically called in to aid the effect of the scene. In the 'Storm at Sea ...' Loutherbourg imitated the signals of distress .... the thunder was imitated by shaking a a large sheet of thin copper ...and the waves, carved in soft wood, were coloured and varnished so as to reflect the lightning. A machine regulated the speed of their revolution, and each one turned on its own axis, and in a contrary direction to its neighbour. The vessels were beautifully modelled and correctly rigged .... The rush of the waves was simulated .... the wind was imitated .... and the rain and hail, by revolving tubes filled with small seeds and beads."

Difficult to believe that many, if not all, of these effects had not been preceded in Winstanley's Mathematical Water Theatre. Below, mezzotint after Monamy painting now in the Tate, formerly described as "anticipating Turner's stormy sensibility", but currently, 2013, as "theatrical". 2017: The display label now seems to have been sensibly revised.


chronology: phase one paintings
the decorator one
personal promotion
public display at vauxhall gardens
vauxhall gardens
monamy website index


© Charles Harrison Wallace 2005, 2013, 2017
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