ships in distress: tate gallery;   see also here; and here
Turner was a genius; but Monamy was theatrical

"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, published "on the occasion of the opening by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 24th May 1979 of the largest extension ever made to the building of the Tate Gallery", p.13. No author appears to be credited for this edition, but later books (1990) similarly titled are by Simon Wilson. The comment on Monamy has disappeared.

"It was probably in 1796 that [Turner's] first work in oil was shown ..... This was Fishermen at Sea ... Turner [was] following a fashion for moonlight and firelight subjects begun by two older men, Joseph Wright of Derby and P.J. de Loutherbourg. Like them, Turner painted buildings on fire and furnaces at night. These things fascinated him to the end of his life, and this picture, though not quite mature in handling, shows us the main elements of his future subject-matter: light, fire and the sea, with man at their mercy."

The above comment comes from J.M.W.Turner, by David Thomas, 1979, p.5. Although Turner was no doubt impressed by the sea-pieces of de Loutherbourg, can Wright of Derby be acceptable as a serious influence upon him? Nature is at the mercy of man in Wright of Derby. The English fashion for moonlight and firelight seascapes was not, however, begun by either of these painters, but by Monamy some 70 years before Fishermen at Sea, in the mid to late 1720s.

"The deeply felt patriotism, expressionistic distortion, and sometimes wild conjunction of sea and sky, fire and water, are as characteristic of Monamy as they are of Turner. But in Turner they are acceptably mature, whereas in Monamy they can still be embarrassingly naïve. English art in 1704, when Monamy was freed from his apprenticeship, was in a primitive state. Tracing his development from 1704 to 1749, and judging his work in its true context, it is nevertheless not apparent that the "Pictor Londini" of George Vertue, and the "famous Marine Painter" of Antiquity Smith, exactly fits the category of minor petit-maître assigned to him by received opinion."

Article 1983; see website: here.

starters and followers of fashion
for moonlight and firelight at sea

dubbels & monamy & turner

monamy & turner

monamy & turner

monamy & turner

monamy & turner

monamy & turner

monamy & turner

The purpose of arraying these fifteen paintings, sketch and mezzotint, eight by Turner and eight by Monamy, side by side, is not to assert that Turner was deliberately or even consciously recasting Monamy's works in his own mould; but merely mildly to suggest that the two painters were looking at their worlds through similar eyes. The assembled arrangement of cunningly selected details admittedly implies the startling and unacceptable thought that Turner had very considerably more in common with Monamy than he ever did with Wright of Derby, de Loutherbourg or van de Velde. No self-respecting, self-regarding, self-assured art historian could countenance such an idea, of course. Poussin, yes; Monamy, the self-taught apprentice house-painter who copied van de Velde? Never.

Strangely enough, Turner himself began as a virtual apprentice; as did two of the very greatest names in English art, William Hogarth and William Blake. How, one wonders, would Horace Walpole accommodate Blake and Turner, and the views of their families, in his pantheon of eminence, alongside Mr Scott, painter of sea-pieces, or Robert Woodcock, the gentleman's son?

Turner studied under Thomas Malton, painter of urban scenes in Westminster, and spent three years "copying the drawings of J.R.Cozens and other artists". We do know that Turner was quite familiar with old marine mezzotints, including one "after Vanderveld". Cozens was patronised by William Beckford, and Turner "stayed with Beckford at Fonthill" in 1799. Among Beckford's "vast and largely tasteless collection of objects of every kind, both natural and artificial" could there have been, in view of his lack of taste, the occasional painting by Monamy, perhaps bequeathed by his ferocious father, the City alderman and chum of Pitt? No doubt Peter Monamy Cornwall had lost all connection with Beckford and Fonthill Gifford by 1799; but might the pluralist vicar of St John's, Westbourne, near Havant, 1808-1828, have encountered an eccentric artist on the banks of the Chichester canal?

And did Turner ever meet up and have discussions about decayed painters with W.H.Pyne and J.T.Smith, or visit Vauxhall Gardens, around the time of Trafalgar, 1805? In 1807 Turner was "elected Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy": would that have been linear, or isometric, perspective? Such difficult questions, though puzzling, are not beyond all conjecture.

Quotes from and allusions to David Thomas, Horace Walpole, the Oxford Companion to Art, not forgetting Sir Thomas Browne.

monamy & turner 2
monamy & turner 3

article 1983: chichester
background & beckford
art & imitation
monamy site index

© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003
all rights reserved