à bout de souffle

Sir Robert Holmes: His Bonfire
the Willem van de Veldes

The power of art is ..... the power to hold our gaze across the years or centuries
Keith Miller, TLS, December 1, 2006, p.18

The past, nevertheless, whether foreign or not, is another country; and but indifferently understood.

Holmes, His Bonfire: 19 and 20 August 1666 (New Style). Painting by the Younger van de Velde.
The preparatory drawings, apparently made on the spot with exactness, are by the Elder.

The Queen’s Private Dining Room at Hampton Court Royal Palace. On the menu: Steak au poivre flambé, followed by crème brûlée.

The rumour repeated by Bainbrigg Buckeridge that the Elder van de Velde guided the English fleet, under Sir Robert Holmes, to the Dutch harbour at Schelling has been raised already on page 15 of this breathless series of puzzled enquiries. Contemplation of the pictures shown above impels me to have another go at sussing out what Buckeridge was aiming to put across.

In connection with the magnificent exploit of the bold Bashaw, Wikipedia asserts that: "Accompanying the Dutch troops was the famous naval painter Willem van de Velde the Elder, who would make sketches of the site, that he and his son Willem van de Velde the Younger would develop into some dramatic paintings." If so, just how exactly was it that the Elder came to be so opportunely present ?

Hampton Court paintings identified. Key to above.

The official account from the English side was that they "had the advantage of being aided by a Dutch captain, Laurens Heemskerck, known to the English as 'Lauris van Hamskirck', who in 1665 had fled to England after having been condemned to death for cowardice shown during the Battle of Lowestoft. Trying to ingratiate himself with his new masters, he had for some time been promoting a possible raid on this location. On the 7th August Heemskerck was sent out in the Little Mary, a sixth-rate vessel of 12 cannon, to reconnoitre the coast together with Rupert's private yacht, the Fan Fan, returning the evening of the next day. A sweep along the coast by a frigate squadron during the following week brought only few prizes.

On Thursday 19 August, the adverse southeasterly having eased to a breeze, Holmes entered the Vlie, around 8:00 am, using Tyger as his flagship and leaving Hampshire and Advice behind as a covering force. Normally the shifting shoals would have made an approach very difficult but Holmes had a stroke of luck. On the 17th the Dragon had taken a Danish merchantman with a Dutch pilot on board that Holmes considered more capable than Heemskerck; also it transpired that part of the buoyage had not been removed; this had been ordered by the Admiralty of Amsterdam but on the 18th the English were already so close that the official 'buoy man' had not dared to complete the job." Much of the credit, according to Ollard, was nevertheless given to Heemskerck. So why did Buckeridge give all the credit to van de Velde --- with the Younger still alive? Who could have been the Dutch pilot on board the Danish merchantman?

Well, the details, such as they survive today, can be skimmed here, from which the above notes have mostly been culled, and then digested from Man of War, by Richard Ollard. While not denying the less endearing character traits of Robert Holmes (admitting his molestation of the wife of Samuel Pepys), it is clear that Ollard thinks of the man as the Errol Flynn and Captain Blood of the Restoration Navy. The politics are reversed, however. Good King Charles; Good King James.

Ollard's account, in Man of War, Phoenix Press, 2001, p 151, does not explicitly confirm that the pilot was Dutch. Instead, Holmes, having decided that Heemskerck was useless, wrote that "by much persuasions" he "did engage the Master and Steerman of this Dane ... to bring me in safe to the place where the Dutch fleet lay". So was the Steerman Dutch? No doubt. But what was his name?

Wooden ships
seldom sink
but they burn

crème brûlée
rounds off dinner

All this stuff about Holmes is a digressive distraction. To the right, the rich drapery in the Duke of Lauderdale's closet at Ham House reveals the nature of the British art historian's basic interest in marine painting.

Duke's Closet, Ham House. Read Macaulay on Lauderdale.

The drapes only disclose the art historian's near-total disinterest, of course. By pulling that curtain aside, the original objective of this page can be revealed. Which is to say, the relationship between van de Velde's undermantel house-painting, and Monamy's slavish copying.

This matter was first explored, with consummate dedication, integrity, probity and accuracy, some ten years ago, and the findings have long been freely available, here. Or here. Or here. This present page, however, is more colourful. It has been prompted by the sensation of faint disbelief experienced on picking up a book entitled The Pleasure Garden, from Vauxhall to Coney Island, edited by J. Conlin, published 2013. This compilation contains a chapter headed Guns in the Gardens: Peter Monamy's Paintings for Vauxhall, perusal of which obliges me to button my lip with resolute determination. I must restrict response to a number of points of indubitable fact.

pull back the curtain, to expose the undermantel marine

On page 80, the essay on Monamy's Guns in the Gardens notes that his paintings are "known only through engravings by Pierre Fourdrinier and Remi Parr". For some ten or fifteen years now, however, it has been confidently suspected that Remi, or even Remigius, Parr, has been confused with another engraver called Richard Parr. See the British Museum website. Quote: "Richard Parr (British; Male; c.1707 - 1754 after) ... Printmaker, worked for the mapmaker, John Rocque. Prints by Richard Parr have been mistakenly ascribed to Remigius Parr (q.v.). See S. O'Connell, London 1753, published 2003, p. 128, citing a lecture by Laurence Worms, 'Society and Maps', given at the Warburg Institute, London, 1998." See also the ODNB, which is not always wrong. The entry on the Parr family includes a contribution by Timothy Clayton.

Furthermore, since 2004 at the latest, it has been widely recognized that there was no person called Pierre Fourdrinier living in England during the first half of the C18th, if at any other time. Pierre is simply a mistake for Paul. See here. Or, even better and more succinctly, here. Even furthermore, although three of the paintings are indeed only known through engravings, there are at least three known oil paintings of the fourth, the Taking of the San Joseph, one of which is in the Maritime Museum at Greenwich. See here. These are likely to have been based on the print, however.

Logic might suppose that Guns would address the engravings by Paul and Richard in chronological order; ie taking themes anticipatory of conflict, engraved by Paul, before those illustrating contemporary actions, engraved by Richard. The author reverses this chronology, however, and starts with Jenkins's Ear, the removal of which she states, p 81, happened in 1738. For over a hundred years it has been perfectly well known that this slicing took place on the 9th of April, 1731. See here, or here. The true date is significant, establishing the early patriotic character of the display in Vauxhall Gardens, begun in 1736.

The eye-opening statement is then made, p 81, that "in 1729 Admiral Francis Hosier had attempted and failed to take the seemingly impregnable fortress" at Porto Bello. Since Admiral Hosier had been dead for two years in 1729, and in any case had been "under strict orders not to attempt a capture of the town", it is not really surprising that he failed to do what he had been ordered not to do. Throughout GiG there is a distinctly Orwellian whiff of the Big Brotherhood of Walpole Smith. Dates and facts may be liberally changed at will, and history re-written, to accommodate a pre-determined political doctrine or agenda; and the thoughts expressed seem policed to adhere to the precepts of a Ministry of Truth.

On page 84 we are told that "Monamy was in his mid-fifties" in 1740, although in fact he was just a year short of 60; between pages 80 and 86 the St Josef has (correctly) adjusted to become the St Joseph [since she was Spanish, I like to call her the San Joseph]; and on page 89 we learn that Monamy's illustration of Sweet William's Farewell was "based on John Gay's poem of 1713". This must come as a startling revelation to the eminent antiquarian booksellers Ximenes of Goucestershire, who, for a modest £12,500, are currently (July, 2013) offering an astonishingly rare 1719 first edition of Sweet William's farewel [to] black-ey'd Susan. A ballad ... "one of the most famous of all English ballads ..... long thought to have appeared first in Gay's Poems on Several Occasions, the two-volume collection published in 1720 by Jacob Tonson and Bernard Lintot". Perhaps it was already lurking somewhere in Gay's personally written ms and dated six or seven years earlier, present whereabouts known only to the author of GiG.

This page grows unwieldy, and more points are made elsewhere, allowing closure here with a look at Monamy's use of van de Velde's decoration of Lauderdale's closet, inventoried in 1683. This painting, and not the one in the Mellon collection, adduced in GiG, is the blatantly obvious antecedent of the Vauxhall composition. The re-arrangement of the three passages in the Ham House picture can be clearly observed below, and the precise nature of the re-organization was pointed out several years ago on the earlier page: here. The provenance of the decorations in Ham House is, of course, unusually rock-solid.

The print image above has been reversed, to show the composition as it would have appeared in Vauxhall Gardens
"What the artist perceives is, primarily, the difference between things. It is the vulgar who note their resemblance." V.Nabokov, Otchayanie, 1932.

Sometimes it is necessary to be vulgar, so that judgement can be exercised, discerning differences as well as similarities.

To the left is a sketch, A, described as a "Fight in Boats", attributed at Greenwich to van de Velde, in which a great number of similarities and differences can be detected relating to the reversed image, B, of the fight in boats which appears in Paul F's engraving of Monamy's painting in Vauxhall Gardens.

The compositional relationship between A and B is very obvious, but there are some amusing differences. The sailor under the letter A appears to be right-handed, but his equivalent under B wields his sword in his other hand. The group of four, boxed in red in the sketch, seem to be wearing turbans, whereas in the print their headgear looks as though it's converted from Algerine to Christian. I could be mistaken.

The author of GiG is said, p 304, to be "working on an exhibition and related book on eighteenth-century British marine painting". Since Robinson, Kingzett, Joel and myself have each already spent upwards of 30-50 years on this topic, she has some way yet to go. Professional wages should be earned.

No doubt the great Nabokov knew the works of Edmund Burke: "Mr Locke very justly and finely observes of wit, that it is chiefly conversant in tracing resemblances; he remarks at the same time that the business of judgement is rather in finding differences." On Taste: the introduction to Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1824 edition.

So much for those who look at Monamy and see van de Velde.

"The truth ... is that to the dilettante the thing is the end, while to the professional as such it is the means; and only he who is directly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come."

Arthur Schopenhauer, 1851

One gets more real truth out of one avowed partisan than out of a dozen of your sham impartialists
simpering honesty as they suppress documents.

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1871

Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.

Friedrich Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orléans, III, 6; Talbot, 1801

next page
earlier fakes page
earlier old van de velde page
most recent page
here's a really excellent site

Map from Richard Ollard's biography of Holmes, 1622 - 1692. With inserts boxed in red.
Reading Matter

Luca Codignola: Laurens van Heemskerk's Pretended Expeditions to the Arctic, 1668 - 1672: A Note.
in The International History Review, xii, 3 August 1990, pp 514-527

Richard Ollard: Man of War: Sir Robert Holmes and the Restoration Navy. 1969.

Andrew R.Little: British Seamen in the United Provinces, etc. in Trade, Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange: North Sea and Baltic areas, 1350-1750. Ed. Hanno Brand. 2005/2006.


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