The Painter and The Patron
In spite of the 125 years odd that separate these two paintings, it has struck me since first becoming aware of them that they display a marked affinity. Most of what has been said of Courbet's very well-known artistic statement could also be said of the Walker/Monamy "conversation piece". Both artists present themselves as the equals of their patrons.
Art-historical eyebrows may rise at the suggestion that Monamy, London-born marine painter, 1681-1749, could have anything in common with Gustave Courbet, French landscape and figure artist, 1819-1877. No doubt Courbet would have had no knowledge of Monamy's existence. Stumbling across an article by Anne M.Wagner in Art History, December 1981, entitled Courbet's Landscapes and their Market, I was impressed nonetheless by how much of her text could be applied to Monamy. The relationship of the artist to his market --- the problem of making ends meet --- is common to both.
Here are some of Wagner's observations. "Despite the energy of his tactics, his work had neither critical, nor, more crippling, commercial success .... After his death ... many major canvases were still unsold ... " (After Courbet's death a retrospective exhibition of his works was held.) "Hostile or not, critics were forced to reckon with the undeniable impact of the show. But at the same time, reports that some of the paintings included there were forgeries began to filter into the press ... a notice that false (paintings) were being turned out by the score in a 'factory' located somewhere ... The exhibition catalogue itself included a section with reproductions of real ... signatures, presumably to offer some help with the same problem. ... Fake (paintings) were produced to feed the public's appetite for his work ... the artist himself collaborated in the falsification of his work, signing (pictures) painted by his students ... two mediocre talents, and using them to satisfy a large backlog of orders for autograph works".
Wagner concentrates purely on the market for Courbet's landscapes, the equivalent for Monamy being his marine calms, and 'Royal Occasions', the market for which markedly outstripped any other of his themes; for instance, storms or ship portraits. These "were the core of (his) production, not just in numbers, but in the meanings they contain." I do not believe that this applies to Monamy's calms, which seem to me often, if by no means always, meaningless; but Wagner goes on, interestingly, to quote Herder as suggesting that "Courbet's choice of particular landscape motifs conveys an implicit challenge to governmental power as located in the person of Napoleon III". There is certainly an implicit challenge to governmental power, 'as located in the person of' Robert Walpole in a great deal of Monamy's oeuvre. Wagner continues to remark on "their central characteristic, their production for a bourgeois market, and their demonstrable appeal to it. (He) may have despised patrons, as he avowed, but that scorn was qualified in practice. He rejected one kind of patron in favour of presenting his work directly to other purchasers, primarily an urban public, with both the price of entry to an exhibition (read Vauxhall Gardens for Monamy) in its pocket, and the cost of a picture within its command."
Further on, Wagner comments: "The ambiguities of old sale catalogues, the existence of false (paintings), and the obscurities of sales through dealers make accurate quantitative work impossible. ... supporters ... see his career in terms of his market and ... doubt his ability to find purchasers for his work. ... The avid, aristocratic amateur was exactly the kind of Maecenas (he) swore he wanted to avoid, but ... throughout his career, no new class of patrons emerged. (He) relied on rich, sometimes powerful supporters, as well as more modest members of the bourgeoisie ... he saw his relationships with his benefactors as a liberating alternative to state patronage. No matter who the purchaser, it was necessary for the painter to sell his work. If (Courbet) was a socialist, he was not living in an ideal state which would greet and reward his artistic efforts. He had to find, to convince a public and present it with works it wanted to buy."
Monamy, of course, was not a socialist, but he was, most certainly, a Hanoverian Whig, ie a believer in meritocracy, loyal to mercantile and Navy interests, and his position, in terms of the power politics of his time, was analogous. 'State patronage' for Monamy was 'Walpole patronage'. "Independence meant two things: private patrons and freedom from state aid. The one purchased the other", as Wagner puts it. "(He) let paintings out of his atelier which did not attain a masterly level of finish ... The paintings were not yet dry, their canvas was cheap, they were poorly packed and poorly framed ... (this) seemed to offer a deliberate challenge to his client's standards."
Very many of the above points will have their relevance when it comes to attempting an assessment of Monamy's exceedingly numerous, and disconcertingly uneven, marine calms.
Last Works of Gustave Courbet (left) and Peter Monamy (right)
Catalogue entry from The French Taste in English Painting, during the first half of the 18th century
by Elizabeth Einberg, Kenwood Summer Exhibition, 1968.
The issue of The Fine Arts is incorrectly given as May: in fact it should be June.
It is, to my mind, certain that the version exhibited at Kenwood is not by Hogarth, nor Hamilton
but an inferior copy.
see here for discussion of the two versions
From A Lecture on Heads, by George A.Stevens, 1799
"It should be observed in commendation of the taste which our countrymen in general have showed, that they have preferred the greatness of design and composition in which the Italian masters are so well known to excell, before the gaudy Flemish colouring, or 'the drudging mimickry of nature's most uncomely coarsenesses (b)', upon which the Dutch so much value themselves."
(b) Ædes Walpolianæ, Introduction.
From The English Connoisseur, by Thomas Martyn, 1767. By 1767 the triumph of the Virtuosi, and the Walpole school of art criticism, was almost complete, with only the occasional dissenting voice (eg Hogarth's; silenced 1764) having been heard. Martyn's introduction as "editor of this trifle", which consists of twenty-three catalogues of the collections of English connoisseurs, states the case for an English taste, religiously followed for the last 250 years.
page one page two page three page four
conversations: yet another look
more on vauxhall gardens
title page introduction background
article 1981 article 1983
monamy website index
© Charles Harrison Wallace 2002, 2007, 2016
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