From A Description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole,
Earl of Orford and youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole,
at Strawberry Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex.
With an Inventory of the Furniture, Pictures, Curiosities, &c.
In early September 2005 it was confidently put to me in writing that this enigmatic painting is not by Hogarth but by Gawen Hamilton, c 1697-1737. Here is an excerpt from a letter:
"It is curious that the ascription of the portrait of him [ie Thomas Walker] with Monamy should have been got wrong --- if it is wrong --- as early as when it was in Richard Bull's collection, but Gawen Hamilton, whose works it seems closer to than Hogarth's (cf. not just the former's well-known Conversation of Virtuosi, but his John Wootton & Family, and even his Edward, 3rd Earl of Oxford & Family) was rapidly forgotten, and I am often finding even family portraits mis-identified within a generation."
After prolonged scrutiny of Hamilton's paintiings, and comparing them with the similar conversation pieces by Hogarth, I have to say that I am obliged to agree that the Walker/Monamy piece is more probably by Hamilton than by Hogarth. See here, for starters. Or here. Nevertheless, many of the arguments linking Hogarth with Monamy on these pages will be retained: it is the relationship between Hogarth and Monamy prior to their joint involvement at Vauxhall Gardens, in about 1736, that requires re-thinking.
|This Canvas holds a Key to the Great Century of English Painting.|
Described in Hogarth, by R.B.Beckett, RKP 1949, p.44, as "Monamy showing a picture to Mr Walker. Peter Monamy (1670-1749), painter of seascapes, with his patron, Thomas Walker. 24¾ x 20. The picture on the easel is by Monamy, and bears his signature. The rest of the painting is by Hogarth. 1740 has been suggested as a probable date, but it may be earlier. [NB The plate illustration in Beckett's book indicates a date of 1730-1732. Personally I would like it to be slightly earlier still. CHW] Coll. --- Richard Bull, by whom presented before 1783 to Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford. In the Strawberry Hill collection till 1842, when bought by the then Earl of Derby. Exh. --- 1867, National Portraits, 1888, Grosvenor Gallery. Listed --- A.D. 202. [Austin Dobson, William Hogarth, 7th edn., 1907]. See --- Description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole, 1772, Additions since the Appendix, 150 (going up to 1783). Version --- There is a version at the Art Institute of Chicago, 23 x 20, reproduced in Fine Arts, XX, 25." [See here].
Hogarth, Monamy, and The Connoisseurs
On the last page of the booklet printed to go with the 1983 Pallant House Exhibition I wrote that:
"Pupils at English art schools and institutes are taught to adore strange gods. Their 18th century equivalents went on the Grand Tour. But if their perception was superficial, the experience only enhanced their insularity; and they turned into the art snobs and connoisseurs whom Hogarth, and Turner, so heartily despised. The delineation of character and personality in Thomas Stubley's portrait of Monamy leaves nothing to be desired; but who is Thomas Stubley? Merely one of the victims of van Loo. Hogarth, who knew how to fight for his bread and butter, felt compelled at one point to inscribe his work 'W Hogarth Anglus pinxt'.
Typically, the best brief modern comment on this topic occurs under the heading 'From England to Scandinavia' in Larousse: Renaissance and Baroque Art, 1964, Realism in the Protestant and Bourgeois Countries, Marcel Brion. The best introduction to 18th century English painting is not Anecdotes of Painting in England by Horace Walpole, but Anecdotes of William Hogarth, written by himself, 1833 ed."
At the time of writing, I was influenced mainly by The Art of Hogarth, by Ronald Paulson, Phaidon 1975; and the introduction to Joseph Burke's edition of Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty, Oxford 1955, which begins with an account of Hogarth's "war with the connoisseurs". [With many thanks to Bernd Krysmanski: see his website here]. In the light of subsequent reflection, research and reading, perhaps especially the chapter on The Connoisseur and Connoisseurship, in Iain Pears' The Discovery of Painting, Yale 1988, it seems time to try to analyse this picture in more detail.
Although, to an open-minded art-historian, this painting ought to be recognised as a significant work in connection with the rise of the English School, hardly any writer even notices it. In 1983 I received a generous and interested letter from Ronald Paulson, where he remarked of my two articles on Monamy that: "You have established the life and are on the right track with your commentary on the paintings themselves". The absence of any mention of Monamy in Paulson's massive three volume work on Hogarth, published in 1991, is now explained by the de-attribution which appears to have been agreed upon in the years between 1981 and 1991.
Sir Andrew Fountaine shown a picture by the auctioneer Cock. By Hogarth.
Jack Lindsay, in Hogarth, His Art and His World, first published 1979, has this brief notice: "the sea-painter Monamy shows an easel picture to a commissioner of customs who collected Dutch and Italian works. The two level figures are set in rectangular constructions; walls, carpet, pictures. A painting inside the painting occurs again in the work where Sir Andrew Fountaine ... is being shown a picture ... by his son-in-law, the auctioneer Cock."
The "Turkey" carpet, with its wrinkle, echoes or is echoed by, the carpet in Hogarth's 1729 version of Macheath/Walpole from The Beggar's Opera.
Note: Both the Fountaine painting, and the carpet wrinkle in the Macheath painting, re-inforced the supposition to me that the Monamy/Walker piece was by Hogarth. Similarly, Lindsay's notice of the "rectangular constructions", the imprisoning constrictions often present in Hogarth's paintings, as eloquently described in Paulson's writing, seemed to find a parallel in the conversation piece. However, several of Hogarth's conversations are placed in the open air, and it is Hamilton who more often tends to picture his groups in box-like rooms. Hamilton also repeatedly incorporates a "floating" carpet with a ruck, as noticed by Malcolm Warner.
Monamy's "prospect", at one level, is offering a window on the outside, macrocosmic world, and an escape from the prison in which he and and his sniffy connoisseur are confined. Complementing these rectangles, however, is a substructure of triangles, first stated by the obelisk of the easel itself, picked up by the composition within the frame of Monamy's calm, and repeated in the eye movement from easel painting to Monamy looking at Mr Walker looking at the painting. There is a triangular relationship between the connoisseur, the artist and his art.
Neither Mr Walker nor Monamy are mocked in this presentation. In fact Monamy is portrayed with dignity, almost as an heroic figure. No other artist, to my knowledge, is depicted in this manner at this time. Monamy could even have been seen as an exemplar, or a champion even, of the aspirations of native artists. There is no obsequious sycophancy in the level gaze he directs at Mr Walker. Nonetheless, there is an undercurrent of humour, or even satire, in the muted comedy of the situation. Imagination is exercised as to what exactly is going on. In the 1981 Chichester catalogue above I suggested that Monamy was having difficulty in persuading Mr Walker to buy his work; but I am not entirely sure now that this is the main thrust of the picture's meaning.
At about this time (Pears indicates a date of c 1733) a print, right, was published, presenting a group of art connoisseurs as beasts; dogs, pigs, monkeys and donkeys. The print is unattributed, but it is difficult to banish the thought that this anonymous caricaturist had seen the Monamy/Walker composition. The painter, pointedly not a marine specialist, seems to have been given a recognizable likeness. Is he wearing a crown? If so, it's slipping. In fact, on closer inspection, his headpiece is more like a fool's tasselled cap.
In Artists and their Friends, Vol I, p.76, Whitley relates that "Vertue, after visiting the gallery of Mr.Walker, the Commissioner and Receiver of Crown lands, remarks: --- 'This Gent. has very well chosen pictures, such as was recommended to him by the Virtuosi Club, called Vandyck's Club or the Club of St.Luke'. [Horace] Walpole ... after seeing Mr.Walker's pictures, said it was evident that his advisers understood what they professed."
The Painter submitting his Picture to the
Examination of Connoisseurs and Antiquarians
Anonymous print, c 1733.
From I.Pears, The Discovery of Painting, p.141
There is every indication, as I have tried to demonstrate since 1983, that Monamy's prestige, recognition among his peers, financial and social success, peaked in the period from 1727 to 1732, and thereafter slumped, fairly steeply, in all these respects. These years also saw him, in my view, consciously aspiring at least to equal the reputation of the van de Velde name. Yet, remarkably, after about 1732, or 1730 even, there is scant evidence that his canvases contained more than a remote memory or faint echoes of the Dutch master.
In 1726 Monamy became a liveryman of the Painter-Stainer's Company. The very large painting he donated on this occasion might be described as a decorator's version of one of the last and best-known works of the Younger van de Velde, the Royal Sovereign of 1703. The canvas signed and dated by Monamy 1728, now in the Maritime Musem, is perhaps one of his closest emulations of the van de Velde tradition. But the rather strange canvas dated 1730 contains little hint of van de Velde, and seems to introduce a quite novel ambience, perhaps French, if anything. In about 1729 or 1730 Thomas Stubley produced the excellent portrait of Monamy, which was "done in mezzotint" by John Faber, and published 1731. Somewhere about the same time Hamilton, as must now be recognized, collaborated with Monamy on the conversation piece.
After this flurry of activity and attention, nothing much further seems to happen in Monamy's life for at least the next six years. The two canvases dated 1734, if genuine, seem dull and depressed. From about 1736, however, there appears to be a positive revival of spirit, almost certainly related to the re-opening, and ever-increasing popularity and commercial success of Vauxhall Gardens. The idea of introducing a public display of paintings as a major feature of this pleasure park was directly due to Hogarth, with the dedicated objective of recognising and fostering native English artistic talent. Monamy's two paintings of the racing yachts of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, one of which is dated 1738, seem to me energetic and non-derivative. With the outbreak of war in 1739 he laboured tirelessly, if not very profitably, until a few months before the end.
So what happened in the years 1730-1733 to cause, as I see it, such a radical re-orientation in Monamy's oeuvre and search for patronage?
An intricate combination of many factors, all ultimately related to the mounting power, influence and unpopularity of Sir Robert Walpole. The Prime Minister was increasingly seen as an obese Colossus, straddling the port to prosperity, exacting his Customs and Excise slice; and whose rubicund posterior required oral lubrication by all those ambitious for preferment. In 1729 Hogarth, if not John Gay, saw him as a highwayman, fettered, manacled and primed for public execution.
Wootton's portrait of Walpole painted 1725-26
The Beggar's Opera scene by Hogarth, 1729.
Elizabeth Einberg, in Manners and Morals, Tate Gallery 1987, notes of a painting (no 65) described in 1734 by Vertue as "A Conversation of Virtuosi at the Kings Armes. New bond Street a noted tavern", that in "this select gathering of leading artists of the day Hogarth is notable by his absence, but perhaps that was to be expected in a group which included several Catholics and Tory sympathisers and whose aim was to promote his chief rival [Gawen] Hamilton." Wootton is very prominent in this group, one which it seems that Monamy, along with Hogarth, would only have been seen dead in. On reflection, and as this website has developed, the assumption that the aim of this painting was to promote Hamilton seems open to question; especially since the Monamy/Walker conversation piece is now generally ascribed to Hamilton.
Neither Monamy nor Hogarth were Catholics or Tory sympathisers, nor were the merchants of the City of London or the men of the Navy. Robert Walpole was, indeed, a Whig, but only in the sense that Tony Blair is a Socialist. As Geoffrey Holmes, in Politics, Religion and Society in England, 1679-1742, remarks (p.163): "There were many of (Walpole's) party, the Whigs, to whom he became anathema, who rejected his primacy and who opposed him venomously". These political and religious divisions of the day would have been reflected, broadly speaking, by a parallel division in taste between the self-appointed cognoscenti and the ordinary man.
It is not too difficult to imagine that Monamy, City Liveryman, having sat for his fine portrait by Stubley and published a mezzotint announcing his artistic status, was reaching for the crown of Pictor Londini. It is also possible that the "Royal Occasion", now in Buckingham Palace, may have been delivered at about this time to King George II, to commemorate his accession in 1727. But the Virtuosi, I suggest, withheld their approval, and advised Mr Walker against investing in the upstart. It would be useful to know if there is any catalogue of what Mr Walker's gallery contained, to discover what Horace Walpole found to commend in the taste of his advisers. As recorded in the Anecdotes, in Walpole's opinion Monamy ceased to exist in the artistic fraternity after 1727.
Other factors played their part in re-directing Monamy's interests. George Byng, Lord Torrington, died in 1733, and with at least five large canvases by Monamy on his walls he has to be thought of as one of the painter's most important customers. The paintings were executed in the years 1725-1727, just before Monamy's bid for public recognition; and the removal of a major source of naval patronage at this point will have been a setback. Naval operations were in any case quite stagnant at this time. Moreover, in his fascinating chapter on the art market in The Discovery of Painting, Iain Pears notes "the slow period of the late 1720s and the early 1730s", and although his "suggestion of a slump in the 1730s" is connected with a low level of imports of foreign art works "through the period 1731-1740", this economic depression must also have had an effect on the sales of domestic painting. So it is reasonable to assume that Monamy's business was in gradual decline at the same time that political, naval and commercial unrest was steadily mounting. Captain Jenkins had his ear cut off in 1731, although he did not display it in the House of Commons until 1738. Walpole introduced his Customs & Excise Bill in 1733, and was pursuing a policy of "peace at any price". In 1733 Mr Thomas Walker, who was later described by Horace Walpole as "a kind of Toad-eater to Sir Robert" (ie Horace's father) , entered Parliament at the age of 69, and made his first and only speech.
If this analysis can be accepted as broadly correct, in my view it has to be recognised that the course of Monamy's career for the remainder of his life will also have been affected by the rise of Samuel Scott, and the sustained support and financial patronage lavished on Scott by the Walpole family, at first by Sir Robert and Sir Edward Walpole, and later by Horace.
"The moral of the whole is clear: connoisseurship is the mortal enemy of the native practitioner"
Joseph Burke, editor of The Analysis of Beauty, 1955, Introduction, p. xv.
Reproduced in The Discovery of Painting, by Iain Pears