1681-1749                                                                       1702-1772

Look on this picture ----- and on this
Peter Monamy & Samuel Scott: One

From:   Whether ARTISTS only are proper JUDGES of the WORKS OF ART

This opinion was expressed by the painter Joseph Highmore (1692-1780). It is quoted by Iain Pears in The Discovery of Painting; 1680-1768, p.39. Put simply, it says that Samuel Scott, although he did produce marine paintings, was not a marine painter, since he was (virtually) never at sea. The purpose of this page is not to denigrate Scott, who may have been, for all I know, one of the best painters in the world. He has merely been persistently miscatalogued under the wrong heading, ever since Walpole hailed and promoted him as "the English Vanderveldt". It is worth noting that John Nichols, in his Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth, 1783, refers to Scott as "the ingenious landscape-painter" (p.103); and this at a time when sea-painting would very improbably have been described as "landscape-painting", however 19th and 20th century writers may have categorized the genre. Scott is a topographical, riverside and urban landscape artist, as his best work demonstrates.

Westminster Bridge, circa 1751
see below

"Both in its content and its monumentality this picture marks a watershed in Scott's career, and his concern with design is reflected in the alterations that he made in the various versions." Richard Kingzett, A Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Scott, 1982. There are five versions of The Arch of Westminster Bridge in Kingzett's catalogue, and this is one of the earlier of the series, which was preceded by another six versions of The Building of Westminster Bridge, four versions of Westminster from Lambeth and six versions of Westminster Bridge with Neighbouring Houses. Kingzett continues: "The feeling for the texture of wood, brick and stone and their reflection in still water, the quality of plein air perception and the overall sense of tone pattern are melded into what is probably Scott's major contribution to English urban landscape painting." The version above omits "to depict the underside of the righthand arch." Otherwise, a very high degree of finish, as displayed here, is strongly characteristic of Scott's work.

At the time of its painting Scott also considered this picture to be the best he had ever done. It hardly takes great artistic perception to detect that a painting like this is about as far removed from a "marine" as can be imagined. But as an "English urban landscape painting" it is fully qualified.



The contrast between these two paintings is briefly commented on here. "Still water" and "monumentality" were already the defining qualities of Scott's painting in 1736. Still water and monumentality can of course appear in the works of a genuine marine painter, but they are not their "principle (sic) Circumstances". Scott went to sea once only, and, apart from a limited series of somewhat stiff and stagy-looking battles, very seldom depicted scenes exceeding, in the phrase ineptly used by Chatterton of Monamy, "pleasant contemplation all on a summer's day, where the advent of gales or heavy seas would be sacrilege". A closer look at the shipboard and crew details below will underline the salient artistic differences between Monamy and Scott. See here for an auction record of their respective outputs; and their lives are compared on page two.

"There is no obvious explanation for the small scale of the figures on board the bark"
See The Great Age of Sail, 1986, by Kemp & Ormond, plate 31
See also England's Midget Navy.

In my view, the vessels, figures and water in the above scene are all equally frozen. The ship is conceived as an architectural construction. There is not a breath of wind, and it is not easy to understand how the bark will be able to "get under way". In both the overall composition and details the contrasts with Monamy's canvas are striking. Monamy's merchantman leaps with zest, whether inward or outward bound. His East Indiaman is vital, almost sentient in its own right, and his handling of the paint and the spirit he injects into his painting begin to suggest Turner. In the shipboard details below I can personally scent the salt air, and feel the sting of the spray. I am biased, naturally, and have spent many weeks under sail, close to the ocean, and many days and nights out of sight of land. Monamy and Scott are very different kinds of artists, but, comparing like with like within the frame of the marine genre, Monamy is by far the better of the two.

If I am right about the date of the Signal to Anchor, above, ie about 1730, then the painting by Scott, below, entitled A First Rate Shortening Sail, is just about close enough in time and subject for some direct comparison. Scott's depiction of this ship, the identity of which is in doubt, is one of his livelier marines, and he succeeds in imparting to it some sense of movement. Monamy's painting, which can certainly be characterised as "monumental", depicts a first rate at anchor. But the water is not "still", and the whole scene quivers and vibrates with the perpetual motion of the sea. I am reminded yet again of how accurate and applicable Marcel Brion's phrase, "sensitive and agitated", is to Monamy's sea-pieces. In 1934 the ship was authoritatively stated to be the Royal Anne, George Byng's flagship; an identification I seriously doubt. See here.

E.H.H.Archibald notes in Ship Portraits, 1956, that the picture at left is signed and dated Saml. Scott, 1736. It is paired with the Danish Timber Bark, Getting under Way, above. The date coincides with the first reference to Sir Robert Walpole's ownership of two overdoors by Scott.

Archibald also remarks that the "Union at the main seems to indicate that she is meant to represent the Britannia of 1719 when she was Sir John Norris's flagship (ie in 1735). The decoration of the stern, however, is that of the Royal William (1719-1813), and it is possible that the artist used a model of the ship for his painting." Below is a stern view of the model that Archibald may have had in mind.

" ... a pair of paintings, one showing the Royal William at sea, and the other a Danish timber bark in the Thames. This pair are generally regarded as the finest marines by Scott in existence." E.H.H.Archibald, The Story of Maritime Pictures, a chapter in The National Maritime Museum, 1982. In his Walpole Society study of Scott, Kingzett describes these paintings on pp 19-20. He also notes, p. 8 note 6, that "it is symptomatic that ..... several of (Scott's) genuine pictures were thought to be by Van de Velde", and that these two paintings were "a case in point". All one can say is that whenever this was thought to be so, it was evidence solely of the art-historical and visual illiteracy of those whose opinion it was.

Baston's Barfleur and Scott's Royal William (???)

If A First Rate Shortening Sail, or The Royal William (?) at Sea, is the finest marine by Scott in existence, it falls well short (as a marine) of at least a dozen of Monamy's best works. It is, however, imposing, if you like; although perhaps meretricious might be another word. Most of Monamy's canvases, when seen in the flesh, are smaller, and relatively modest and unassuming, as well as being more accurate and aesthetically pleasing. Ultimately a matter of subjective taste, no doubt.

37¼ x 50¼. Canaletto, Westminster Bridge from the North on Lord Mayor's Day, 1746/47, detail

"Samuel SCOTT .... was more of an outdoor artist and in his historical works approached van de Velde in accuracy and skill in composition." Oxford Companion to Art, 1970. I wonder if the Oxford Companion has come to its senses yet. Canaletto's painting of Westminster Bridge, above, was probably finished in 1746, and an engraving of it was published in 1747. After studying this work for 3 or 4 years, Scott, now approaching 50, produced his hitherto finest painting in around 1751. See comparison below, with the Canaletto detail (right) reversed:

Actually, the Canaletto 1747 looks more like a Scott 1747.

scott, walpole & canaletto
samuel scott: page two       samuel scott: battles
samuel scott's calms
print attributed after scott, dated 1803
introduction       background
article 1981       article 1983
artistic range
monamy website index

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