imitation & anticipation

"Peter Monamy was the first important British marine painter, and although he largely imitated the great Dutch tradition of seascape painting, his 'Ships in Distress' anticipates Turner's stormy sensibility." From The Tate Gallery: an illustrated companion, 1979.

The above sentence, which addresses the art-historical concepts of originality, imitation and anticipation, and hovers on the brink of reality and truth, must have been inserted into the Tate Gallery's Illustrated Companion by some aberrant spasm of insight. It is one of the very rare comments by an art curator which actually refers directly to one of Monamy's paintings. Nothing much like it has appeared anywhere else, before or since, and it has now been excised and obliterated. Do not dare to be different, and never make waves, are the rigid dicta of the dog in office. Only a moon-besotted lunatic, with a morbid desire to self-destruct, would suggest that Monamy imitated van de Velde about as much as, or even less than, he was imitated by Turner. The floating pronoun may be attached to either marine practitioner.

Fishermen at Sea was shown in the 18th century. In this work in oil the painter was introducing a fashion for moonlight and firelight subjects. These things fascinated him to the end of his life, and the picture shows us the main elements of his future subject-matter: light, fire and the sea, with man at their mercy. Who are we talking about?

There is a line of deviance and independence that leads from Monamy to Turner. It goes under the manic direction of the political and aesthetic extremism of Chatham and Beckford, via Cozens and the theatrical antics of Loutherbourg, is gathered up and sorted out by Thomas Malton and passed on thence to Turner. Blake, Byron and Burns belong alongside. But detailed tracking must await some other distant day.

"Instead of merely recording factually what he saw, Turner translated scenes into a light-filled expression of his own romantic feelings." (Quoted from a website.)

monamy circa 1725       national maritime museum

An exhibition was mounted by The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, 24 Oct 2003 to 25 Jan 2004, entitled Turner's Early Seascapes: The Sun Rising through Vapour. The exhibition catalogue contains this comment, p.56: "The Thames-side dockyards provided an important focus and source of subject-matter for a group of eighteenth-century marine painters that also included Peter Monamy (1689-1749) and Samuel Scott (1701/2-72)."

By 1980 Monamy's birth date had been established as 1681, and there is no representation of a Thames-side dockyard in his entire oeuvre. Nor, for that matter, is there an obvious dockyard by Scott.

monamy: sun shining through vapour

more on monamy & turner
a conference paper
article 1983: chichester
background & beckford
art & imitation
monamy site index



© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003, 2006, 2013
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