George Vertue & Horace Walpole
and other eminent authorities

few of whom had more than a faint inkling of Monamy's works

"There are some curious men who form an idea of a master, by the sight of three or four of his pictures; and who, after this, believe they have a sufficient authority to decide what his manner is; without considering what care the Painter took about them, and what age he was of when he drew them. ..... There is none also that had not his beginning, his progress, and his end; that is to say, three manners."

Roger de Piles, The Art of Painting, Chap XXVIII, part II. Translated from the French and first published in England in 1706.

Walpole, 1796, by Thomas Lawrence, & Vertue, 1733, by Jonathan Richardson

The passage immediately following is extracted from the Pallant House Exhibition Catalogue, 1983. Several people have asked me whether I actually wrote the comments in this catalogue. I therefore admit sole and full responsibility for the assertions and opinions delivered below in black print, expressed in my own words; and their errors and judgements are mine alone. The words, judgements and perspectives of others are presented in blue text.

Mr & Mrs Vertue on their wedding day in 1720

"Vertue's notebooks were 'bought of his widow Aug 22 1758' by Horace Walpole. The first mention of Monamy occurs in a book prefaced with the instruction '1722/My desire is that/this particular book of/memoranda of Living Artists/markt Af/at my death be/immediately ty'd about/with a string and Seal'd up/till the year 1772/or 50 years after my death.' The note, which must have been made shortly after Monamy was elevated to the livery in 1726, reads:

P.Monamy painter of seaschapes or views of shiping born in Jersey. Prentice to a sign & house painter on London Bridge --- he took to the study & inclination of painting of ships --- or sea pieces from the Variety of those Views he had continually before his eyes where he liv'd when prentice
a large sea peice painted by him & presented to the Painters Company London
ano 1726

It is worth inserting here that at the date of this entry, 1726 or 1727, there is no hint of any kind in Vertue's memorandum that Monamy was to be linked with van de Velde. The comparison with van de Velde by Vertue, below, and all subsequent commentators (excluding Walpole, who couldn't bear the thought), arises only after the issue of the Monamy portrait mezzotint, dated 1731. The misconception that Monamy was born in Jersey is likely to have arisen because of the painter's close association with the Durell family, and possible patronage by Cartaret, both Jersey names. The only picture by Monamy of undoubted Channel Island provenance, however, is in Sausmarez Manor, Guernsey.

The second mention occurs on the first page of a new notebook, and is cast in the form of an obituary notice, which dates it to 1749:

Mr Peter Monamy painter of ships & sea prospects born in Jersey ----- came to London when young & being put to ordinary painting, but having an Early affection to drawing of ships and vessels of all kinds and the Imitations of other famous masters of paintings in this manner ----- VandeVelds &c by constant practice he distinguisht himself and came into reputation ----- besides his industry and understanding in the forms and buildings of shipping with all the tackles ropes & sails &c which he thoroughly understood made his paintings of greater value besides his neatness and clean pencilling of sky and water by many was much esteemd especially sea faring people officers & others marchants &c to remember his fame his picture was painted & done in mezzotint print under writt:
Petrus Monamy Navium et prospectum marionorum Pictor Londini VandeVeldo soli Secundus 1731 ----- he livd some years latter part of his life at Westminster near the River side, for the Conveniency in some measure of viewing the Water & Sky. tho' he made many excursions towards the Coasts and seaports of England to improve himself from Nature & those observations for his further improvement ... thus having run thro' his Time about 60 years of age being decayd and Infirm some years before his death. which happened at his house at Westminster the beginning of Feb 1748/9 ----- leaving many paintings begun and unfinished. his works being done for dealers at moderate prices ----- kept him but in indifferent circumstances to his end.

Although honest, George Vertue was not a stickler for pedantic exactness or factual verification. Horace Walpole's repetition of his mis-statement of Monamy's place of birth has been the cause of two hundred years of confusion. Apart from this, Walpole, whom J.T.Smith called "this elegant author", is not inaccurate. He avoids invoking van de Velde, whose mantle he reserved for Samuel Scott. But his five sentence "digestion" of Vertue constitutes a veritable masterpiece of faint praise. Hinting at faults, and without actually sneering, he taught the rest to sneer. Omitting all reference to Monamy's industry, understanding, neatness, esteem among sea-farers, or his excursions to the coasts and seaports of England to improve himself from Nature, Walpole instead dwells on "the views of his family" --- which were certainly diametrically opposed to those of the Walpoles. He dilates on Monamy's apprenticeship, which he implies in some way detracts from the artist's admitted fame. With a sidelong glance at Scott's deficiency in the same department, he manages to convey the impression that Monamy's turbulent oceans were only imitation.

*** *** ***

He that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

*** *** ***

I cannot rest myself: Anecdotes of William Hogarth, 1833, p.58

*** *** ***

Walpole's comments on Monamy have been so pervasively and destructively influential since their appearance, that in my view they demand rather close examination. Vertue's 326 words were condensed into the following 110, taken from Lord Orford's Works, Volume III, published 1798. The text was not widely distributed until 1780, in partial deference to Vertue's wishes.

In the same year as Lord Orford's Works a new edition of the Rev. Matthew Pilkington's Gentleman's & Connoisseur's Dictionary was published. The note in this dictionary is virtually identical with Walpole's, except for the erratum slip, which was studiously ignored by (almost) all subsequent soi-disant scholars, art-historians, auctioneers and picture-dealers.

One Channel Island may be indistinguishable from another from the perspective of an English art-historian, but to the islanders themselves the differences are profound. Pilkington's dictionary appeared in several editions, most of them containing the erratum notice. Michael Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1816, contains the following entry:

MONAMY, Peter. This painter was a native of Jersey, born about the year 1670. His parents were in indigent circumstances, and he was sent to England when a boy, and apprenticed to a house-painter on London Bridge. But, as Lord Orford observes, speaking of this artist, "where nature gives talents, they break out in the homeliest school. The shallow waves which rolled under his window, fitted him to imitate the turbulence of the ocean". The sea-pieces of Monamy are inferior to those of William Vandevelde, but they are equalled by few painters of those subjects. His calms, particularly, are sunny and transparent, and his vessels are designed and equipped with the greatest correctness and precision. He died in Westminster in 1749.

Peter Monamy's alleged "circumstances", and the curiously inserted "views of his family", have merged into "his parents were in indigent circumstances". Bryan, who like many Englishmen of his era clearly loved a Lord, swallows Walpole's baited comment on "the shallow waves beneath his window" wholesale, takes the hint at faults in his storms (in spite of the storm in the Stubley portrait and Faber mezzotint), and decides that the painter was good at calms. The reality is that Monamy's true excellence lies inter alia in his ability to render shipping in motion. The sign and house-painter has become a house-painter, suggesting ignorance of what house decoration meant in the early C18th. The entry echoes Monamy's competitive claim to be second only to Van de Velde (ie, not second to Scott), a relatively modest self-advertisement which has proved to be sadly misleading over the centuries. Bryan's dictionary was re-published in a five volume edition in 1910, with the text revised by George C.Williamson, D.Litt, thus:

MONAMY, Peter, was a native of Jersey, born about the year 1670. His parents were in indigent circumstances, and he was sent to England when a boy, and apprenticed to a house-painter on London Bridge. He became a marine painter, and produced pictures which were esteemed in their day. In South Kensington Museum there is a view of the old East India Wharf at London Bridge, and at Hampton Court there is a naval battle by him. Monamy died in Westminster in 1749.

Williamson has decided to remove any comparison with Van de Velde, and has rigorously excised every vestige of favourable comment. The imaginary authorship of the imaginary "East India Wharf at London Bridge" painting reappears in Joseph Burke's volume in The Oxford History of English Art, see comment below. It says much for the diligent scholarship of Burke and Williamson that it had been noted decades earlier, in an 1840 dictionary entry for Scott, that: "His views of London Bridge, and of the Custom-house Quay (ie the "East India Wharf at London Bridge"), were admirably painted". Here is the same dictionary's entry for Monamy:

Pilkington's 1798 virtual reprint of Walpole's Anecdotes was given out again by Allan Cunningham, in 1840. The 670 page "new edition, corrected and revised," was titled A General Dictionary of Painters, with 26 new artists. The entry for Monamy is a little difficult to find, for pedantic spellers, but any interest centres more on the substitution of "excellent" for "good". Cunningham seems bamboozled by Walpole's artful prose, and after this initial bold "correction" subsides into making the same peculiar remarks, in slightly varied wording. There is something hypnotic about these phrases, compelling their mindless repetition.

A Century of Painters of the English School by Richard Redgrave CB RA (sometime Surveyor of Her Majesty's Pictures and Art Director of the South Kensington Museum), and co-authored with Samuel Redgrave, was published first in 1866, and a shortened second edition was brought out in 1890. The 1866 edition, Vol I, contains the following, p.91:

In marine painting, a branch of the landscape painter's art which might have been supposed to appeal most directly to the national tastes, two foreigners, the Vandeveldes, found much employment under the last two sovereigns of the Stuart family, and fostered a few pupils and followers. Peter Monamy (B. 1670, D. 1749), if not their pupil, was an imitator of their art, which his own has been said to have equalled. His execution is good, and his knowledge of art considerable. He has an excellent traditional method, with little professional artifice. There is a picture by him at Hampton Court (No.1080), which, though much cracked, is beautifully painted, showing a fine quality of texture, with great precision of touch, the calm plane of the ocean receding into the extreme distance, without that set scenic effect of passing cloud shadows, which even the best masters have used to obtain the appearance of recession or distance: this work well deserves notice, and might puzzle the best painters of such subjects to rival. Samuel Scott (B. 1710, D. 1772), was another artist of the Vandevelde school, whom Walpole calls "the first painter of his age --- one whose works will charm in every age;" adding, "if he was second to Vandevelde in sea-pieces, he excelled him in variety". He was indeed a good draftsman, and painted some tolerable topographical views, as well as marine pieces, but his works do not show any original treatment; they are now little known or esteemed, and he is remembered chiefly as one of Hogarth's companions, in his jovial water-party to Gravesend, in 1732.

Monamy's Hampton Court painting has yet to be identified. It is, of course, not Samuel Scott but Peter Monamy who "was second to Vandevelde in sea-pieces", but who "excelled him in variety". See artistic range.

Just to remind ourselves, here is the "English Vandervelt", when "one of Hogarth's companions, in his jovial water-party to Gravesend", being firmly pushed on board by Mr Forrest. But, to be fair to Scott, he was, as Walpole was pleased to say of Monamy, "a good painter of sea-pieces".

It seems odd to the uninitiated that marine painting should be "a branch of the landscape painter's art", since it is infinitely more difficult to paint the sea than the land, but let it pass. Samuel Redgrave reverses Walpole's opinion of Scott, and repeats in his Dictionary of Artists of the English School, 1878, that Scott's "works are not much esteemed in the present day". Scott and Monamy seem to be at either end of a see-saw of opinion: if you're for the one, you can't be for the other. The sailor, however, whose blood and sweat underpinned the ease of the landed gent, and who might be considered a suitable arbiter, is for Monamy.

To the right we have Samuel Redgrave's dictionary entry for Monamy. The Jersey birth, the ten year error of its date, the poor parents, and the house-painter, all roll on unchecked. Perhaps the story was too good to spoil. Redgrave's account of Monamy showing his paintings in his shop window comes from Wine and Walnuts, 1823, by W.H.Pyne (1769-1843), and is thus highly credible. But the Painter-Stainers become the Paper-Stainers. The reputed excellence of Monamy's calms persists. Redgrave is clearly pro-Monamy; and he had read J.T.Smith's Nollekens and His Times, but much of what he says is hearsay, since he has little first-hand familarity with more than about two works.

[Note: 28/2/03. The source of the London Bridge shop window story was only discovered when I looked into The Old English Landscape Painters, by Colonel M.H.Grant, 1957. Late in the day, but I had not fully understood that marine painting is a branch of the landscape painter's art. Grant's majestic evaluation of Monamy's landscapes is supplied in full, here.]

In 1894 the massive Dictionary of National Biography provided the following account, based almost entirely on Walpole and Redgrave, although Vertue is also quoted as a source.

MONAMY, PETER (1670?-1749), marine painter, born of poor parents about 1670, was a native of Jersey. He was sent to London when a boy, and apprenticed to an ordinary house-painter on London Bridge, but having a real aptitude for painting he devoted himself to drawing the shipping and other similar subjects on the Thames. He based his manner on the two William Van de Veldes, and soon became known to the seafaring community. His paintings were marked not only by good execution, but by close and accurate acquaintance with all the minor details of shipping. His colour was, however, somewhat tame and ineffective. There are two pictures by him at Hampton Court, and a large sea-piece by him is in the hall of the Painter-Stainers' Company, to which it was presented by the painter in 1726. Monamy painted parts of the decorative paintings at Vauxhall, including some representing Admiral Vernon's victories. He also decorated a carriage for the ill-fated Admiral Byng. He resided during the latter part of his life on the riverside at Westminster, where he died early in February 1749 in poor circumstances, as most of his work was done for dealers. His portrait, painted by H.Stubly, was engraved in mezzotint by J.Faber, junior, in 1731, another, engraved by Bretherton, is in Walpole's 'Painters'. An interesting picture of Monamy showing a picture to a patron, Thomas Walker, is in the possession of the Earl of Derby, and was formerly at Strawberry Hill; the figures were painted by William Hogarth, and the sea-piece by Monamy. Monamy also executed a few etchings.

In an earlier draft of this page I remarked that "Whatever semi-academic hack produced this entry must have cobbled it together at the very last moment; and seems to be perfectly unfamiliar with painting of any kind, let alone Monamy. Some amusement may be derived from the garbled conversion of Monamy's sense of colour from Redgrave's "luminous ... good" to "somewhat tame and ineffective". The Bretherton print is a debased copy in reverse of the Faber mezzotint."

Since a thoughtful person has now contributed to the Wikipedia entry for Monamy the information that the "semi-academic hack" was Sir Lionel Henry Cust (1859 - 1929), Surveyor of the King's Pictures and Works of Art, some further amusement may be derived from this intelligence. "Cust was of aristocratic stock ..... and his obituary in The Times described him as a 'walking genealogy'." This Wiki comment deftly sums up Cust's character: clearly a dedicated follower of Lord Orford, if not entirely a fore-runner of Blunt. Cust wrote a number of books, and they will all have to be better than his DNB entry for Monamy, since they could not possibly be worse. At least half of the assertions made by Cust in this entry are simply wrong. How on earth does Thomas Stubley become "H.Stubly"?

The Rev. James Dallaway, who also added to Walpole's Anecdotes in a new edition in 1828, felt obliged to comment on his employment of "the best modern artists" to replace the previous engravings depicting the painters.

stipple: S.Freeman, Dallaway's edition 1828

"It is well known that the portraits which Walpole procured to be engraved for the former editions were not only sometimes taken from authorities inferior to others, equally accessible, but that they were executed in a manner which, candour must allow, exhibited the parsimony, rather than the encouragement, of this otherwise noble patron of the arts."
        James Dallaway, 1826.

line: J.Bretherton, Walpole's edition, 1780

Gordon Home, in Old London Bridge, 1931, repeats the DNB's inane bêtise, thus: "His pictures show good execution and accurate knowledge of the details of rigging, but his observation was not so good where colour was concerned...." Later on I think it is Chatterton, gored elsewhere on site, who tells us that "his colouring was delightful".

The excerpt below comes from A Catalogue of Engraved National Portraits in the National Art Library, 1895, compiled by Julian Marshall and sold at the South Kensington Museum. It is possible that the words in quotation marks cite a comment by Mr Freeman M.O'Donoghue, of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Perhaps the influence of J.T.Smith can be detected in the unattributed remark. However slight, there is an implicit awareness that the DNB had been talking through its monumental hat.

In Chapter XI of The Oxford History of English Art 1625-1714, by Whinney and Millar, 1957, marine painting is again subsumed under "Landscape Painting and the Lesser Genres". Here is a quote devoted to two practitioners of a lesser genre, page 275:

".....the styles of Scott and Peter Monamy, and ultimately of all the English marine artists of the eighteenth century, were formed entirely on that of the Van de Veldes."

The lofty assurance of this magnificently sweeping statement is sublimely oblivious to the life, blood and liberty of the British people, the sea. From an art-historical stand-point it is also totally wrong. Its wrongness is a mechanical consequence of the cultural insularity of the art connoisseur, of whatever country, to whom the native genius of a painter is virtually invisible, and who routinely displays his/her expertise by adducing foreign influence. In the next volume of the Oxford History, 1714-1800, by Joseph Burke, 1976, art-historical fantasy advances another couple of paces into cloud cuckoo-land:

A turbulence too far. Overdoor by Monamy. Notice the faint air of calico.

Vertue "praised Peter Monamy (c.1683-1749) for his 'understanding in the forms and buildings of shipping with all the tackles ropes and sails etc.' and for his 'neatness and clean pencilling of sky and water'. 'The shallow waves that rolled under his window taught Monamy what his master could not teach him', commented Walpole, 'and fitted him to imitate the turbulence of the ocean'. This is going too far; he imitated the mannerisms of the Van de Veldes too pedantically, so that 'there is a faint air of calico about much of his water'. Like his senior Isaac Sailmaker, remarkable more for the appropriateness of his name than the distinction of his work, he was a longshoreman, and the category remained in the hands of the longshoremen until the era of the expeditionary painters headed by William Hodges. The innovations are chiefly to be noted in their plein-air sketches, a deservedly famous example being Monamy's water-colour study for a studio oil painting of the Old East India Wharf in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In its sure combination of sensitive outline and broad wash the former forecasts the future development of the English water-colour school."

Wonderful. Confusion worse confounded. The so-called Old East India Wharf is, very obviously, a later work by Scott, and displays all that artist's qualities and limitations. It is not a marine painting, but demonstrates Scott's undoubted ability to draw architecture, as well as his typically immobile figures, which contrast strongly with Monamy's agitated and positively theatrical staffage. Anything of van de Velde in the operatic medley below?

Joseph Burke should have stuck to his rather better-considered commentaries on Hogarth. If Monamy "imitated the mannerisms of the Van de Veldes too pedantically", why is there an "air of calico about much of his water"? (Whatever that means: the phrase was coined by Waterhouse --- the blind lead the blind). The truth is that Monamy didn't imitate the van de Veldes "pedantically" in any sense at all. Scott, however, in his early years, 1725-1730, was a close copyist of van de Velde. The catalogues of Scott's collection of paintings, drawings and prints sold on 1-4th April 1765, and after his death on 12-13th January 1773, as recorded in Kingzett's Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Scott, include an immense number of drawings by van de Velde. It may be suspected that these far exceed in quantity those left by Monamy. Scott, however, is well outside the mainstream of English marine painting. See below.

Painted by Scott when on the verge of retiring first to Twickenham, then Ludlow. A capriccio.

In passing, and since the name of Sailmaker is scoffed at by Burke above, here is an amusing extract from the website currently mounted by the National Maritime Museum [here]: 17th century. The great age of marine painting in the Netherlands. Artists active in this period include Hendrick Vroom (1566-1640), Simon de Vlieger (1600-53), Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-93) and his son Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707). In 1672 the van de Veldes emigrate to England. Late 17th - mid-18th century. Under the influence of the van de Veldes, a school of marine painting emerges in England. Their followers include Isaac Sailmaker (1633-1721) and Peter Monamy (1681-1749).

Oil on panel, 15½ x 20. Ascribed to Sailmaker. Sometimes said to be Oliver Cromwell,
with view of sea battle between Monk and van Tromp, 1653.
Notice how closely the painter, whoever he was, follows the style of the van de Veldes, who came to England in 1672.

This painting is currently (September 2013) said by the NMM to depict George Monk (1608-1670), 1st Duke of Albemarle. As follows: "The received attribution of this picture to Sailmaker must be considered doubtful, not least since he is not recorded as doing portraits. The supposed likeness here to Albemarle is also open to question and the composition as a whole relates to better known images of Maarten Tromp (see for example BHC3061) of which there are various versions probably disseminated through Dutch print versions."

Take your pick.

Burke's 1976 Oxford tome was preceded by the 1970 Oxford Companion to Art, edited by Harold Osborne. Comment on Monamy in this compendium reaches such a crescendo of imbecility that I shudder on behalf of my university. However, Oxford was always a land-locked pocket of Stuart Royalism. It is not possible for me to tell which of the 37 contributors to this publication is responsible for the remarks on Monamy, but if the perpetrator is still alive then s/he, if revealed, can expect 40 lashes, keel-hauling, and will be forced to walk the plank before being strung up at the yard-arm. Here are the excerpts (1989 edition):

In the 18th c. the best marine painting followed the shift of sea-power from the Dutch to the English. There was Peter MONAMY, who so often copied van de Velde's compositions slavishly, and Samuel SCOTT, who was more of an outdoor artist and in his historical works approached van de Velde in accuracy and skill in composition. p.693.

Utter drivel. Scott's marine paintings are notoriously inaccurate and even capricious. He knew little of seamanship, and had no instinctive knowledge beyond what he acquired by intensive study. In this respect he is far more of a studio artist than Monamy. There is not a single storm scene in his entire oeuvre, hence Walpole's veiled disparagement of Monamy's "turbulences". Scott's work is more appropriately, if not very closely, linked with Canaletto, and his numerous riverscapes may be influenced by several earlier artists, none of whom were named van de Velde. Moreover, in spite of Scott's repeated use of van de Velde drawings and compositions there is never any real chance that the works of the one could be mistaken for the other.

Monamy, Peter (1689-1749). English marine painter, born in Jersey. He came to London as a house painter when a boy, taught himself drawing and painting and found his subjects almost entirely in shipping on the Thames. He developed a meticulous style based on that of the van de VELDES, and his work has little variety. In 1726 he presented a large sea-piece to the Painter-Stainer's Company. He was one of the artists employed on the decorations at Vauxhall Gardens. There are typical examples of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum and at Dulwich. p. 735.

Little variety !!! Art-historical sloppiness and incompetence could hardly sink lower. This entry contains only two correct statements, one of which is only half true, and its dismal lack of scholarly accuracy and integrity is only matched by Archibald's lamentable entry for Monamy in the 1980 edition of the Dictionary of Sea Painters. It is academically disgraceful that this deplorable nonsense should still be published as late as 1989.

Here is the truth: Peter Monamy painted with unremitting industry for 45 years. He was trained in the English folk-painting tradition by London's leading sign painter and interior decorator. His artistic range considerably exceeds that of the van de Veldes. His close interest in the van de Velde output is restricted to about 5 of his 45 productive years, and it is very doubtful whether he produced a single "slavish" copy of their works. Conversely, Woodcock is explicitly reported by Walpole to have copied at least 40 of van de Velde's paintings. Prior to 1720 and after 1730 there is little vestige of van de Velde in Monamy's oeuvre. He "made many excursions to the coasts and seaports of England to improve himself from Nature". His best work is in his storms, his ships in motion, his interest in the effects of light, his expression of England's naval glory. There is extraordinary variety in his output, but its defining characteristic is drama, and a consistently heightened sense of occasion. He was uniquely famous among English painters, and "reckoned the finest painter of shipping in England" for over a century after his death. His canvases at Vauxhall were among the most prominently displayed artistic features there for most of the existence of the Gardens. The "typical example of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum" is by Samuel Scott. The Dulwich painting is untypical, unsigned, and may not even be by him. He was respected by William Hogarth. He won the unswerving and exclusive loyalty of the serving officers of the Royal Navy. He was a major influence on all genuine English marine painters who came after him, including Brooking, Swaine, Paton, Serres, Whitcombe, Turner and innumerable others. In his prime, about 1725-1730, he was an inspiration to all native-born English artists, and if any single individual can be said to have laid the foundations of the "English School of Painting", it is Peter Monamy. Readers are recommended to to take note of Monamy's public obituary.

If these claims seem excessive, some vigorous corrective to the absolute garbage peddled by English art historians about Monamy for the last 150 years is long, long overdue. I make no apology for my vehemence. A quick glance at the "artistic range" pages on this website will provide a reasonably convincing introduction to Monamy's true achievement.

T.Lawrence R.A: ad vivum delin, 1796

Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caused himself to rise;
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike:
Alike reserved to blame, or to commend,
A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend;
Dreading e'en fools, by flatterers besieged,
And so obliging that he ne'er obliged;
Like Cato, give his little senate laws,
And sit attentive to his own applause

Alexander Pope, 1735

Walpole on Hogarth: "As a painter he had but slender merit."
Walpole on a painting by Hayman: "Execrable."

Fair play, I suppose, requires that some effort be made to explain how authority could stray so far from veracity, and how prejudice could have become so deeply entrenched. Pictures disappear into collections, are widely dispersed, and an artist's complete oeuvre requires an inordinate amount of time and effort to assemble in photographic form, let alone to exhibit. Before photography, historians were almost inevitably reduced to repeating previous comment, and would introduce their own judgements, often condescending and seldom corrected, on the basis of acquaintanceship with perhaps only three or four examples of an artist's work. Since not one of the writers quoted above, Vertue, Walpole, Pilkington, Bryan, Williamson, Redgrave, the DNB, Home, Grant, Whinney, Millar, Waterhouse, Osborne, Burke, appears to have had more than a minimal interest in marine painting, or knowledge of seamanship and the sea, their smug opinions are worthless, as Joseph Highmore might have told them.

Monamy's range is extremely wide, his paintings were produced at a transitional stage in English art; apart from the four works in Vauxhall Gardens they were never formally exhibited; he died at the wrong time, in the sense that his rustic counterpart, Wootton, outlived him by 15 years; and, although there are a number of his pictures in country houses, his patrons were not, like Wootton's, predominantly landed. The laughable assertion that Monamy "slavishly copied" van de Velde is possibly a result of Michael Robinson's mounting obsession with the van de Veldes during the 1960s and 1970s, and his injudicious attribution of inferior copies of the Master to Monamy --- with not much justification, and oblivious, during those decades, of the existence of Cornelius van de Velde, if he is the "son" referred to by Walpole, "who made good copies of his father's works", or Robert Woodcock, who "openly professed the art" of copying van de Velde. Disregard of Monamy's early life, and the belief that he was born in 1670, also led to the total misconception that he worked "in the van de Velde shop". There are several other reasons for Monamy's misrepresentation in dictionaries and art-histories, but the prime culprit is Horace Walpole, whose petty little notice has been slavishly followed. This is is an explanation, but not an excuse, for the arbitrary utterances of, especially, the Oxford school of art criticism.

Epigram by the Reverend Joseph Trapp (1679-1747)
on the gift of a library by George I to Cambridge University

The King, observing with judicious eyes
The state of both his universities,
To Oxford sent a troop of horse, and why?
That learned body wanted loyalty;
To Cambridge books, as very well discerning
How much that loyal body wanted learning.
Reply by Sir William Browne (1682-1774)
The King to Oxford sent a troop of horse,
For Tories own no argument but force:
With equal skill to Cambridge books he sent,
For Whigs admit no force but argument.

The "loyalty" mentioned here is, of course, to the Hanoverian monarchy. When it comes to maritime art, the Oxford School wants learning as well as loyalty. Or, it did, until Iain Pears published The Discovery of Painting 1680-1768, in 1988. A quote from the same author's The Raphael Affair, 1990, is probably not out of place here: "A sizable chunk of art history consists of unravelling other people's errors and substituting your own." Chapter 5.

walpole's anecdotes

Colonel Grant's Pronouncement
comments on NMM biography of Monamy
more twentieth century howlers
reputed excellence in calms
kensington palace pictures: 1899
introduction       background
article 1981       article 1983
detailed monamy chronology
artistic range
monamy website index

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2002, 2003, 2013, 2017
all rights reserved

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