An Action Between an English Ship and Barbary Pirates
oil on canvas
12 ¾ x 17 ¼ in. (32.4 x 43.9 cm.)
Peter Monamy was probably the most renowned and influential British naval painter of the Eighteenth Century and the immediate successor of the van de Velde father and son who, thanks to the invitation of Charles II, left the Netherlands and launched the tradition of naval painting which many consider to be quintessentially British, despite its firm Dutch origins.
Born in London, the youngest son of a merchant from an old Channel Islands family, Monamy was baptised at St. Botolph’s Church, Aldgate on 12th January, 1681. In 1696 he began his seven-year apprenticeship to William Clarke, a former Master of the Painter-Stainers’ Company. Clarke was a well-established tradesman, based on Old London Bridge and nearby Thames Street, serving London merchants in the decoration of their houses, and as painter of the ornate trade signboards advertising City businesses. Monamy was freed of his apprenticeship in 1704, on the same day as Sir James Thornhill, who later decorated the Painted Hall at Greenwich Naval College.
Monamy’s early works are painted in a manner reminiscent of his native English contemporaries. As he matured he raised his game to fill the void left by the van de Veldes father and son, but close copies can be counted on the fingers of two hands.
Monamy remained highly influential despite the rise of his younger rival Samuel Scott (1701/2-1772). The re-opening in 1736 of Vauxhall Gardens led to the display there of major works by Monamy, as well as by William Hogarth (1697-1764), Francis Hayman (1708-76)) and other English artists. With the advent of war against Spain and France in 1739 Monamy’s style shed all continental influence, and he worked with renewed industry rather in the manner of his early years, dying at his house in Old Palace Yard in early February 1749.
Monamy’s full range is very wide, covering every maritime theme on canvas, wood panel and on copper; in etchings, book illustration, and many engravings in mezzotint and line. His work was produced for Buckingham Palace, aristocratic houses and the manors of landed gentry; for City merchants and livery halls; for naval officers such as Lord Torrington as well as for lesser sea-dogs; and even a public house sign. With his rural counterpart, John Wootton (1682-1764), Monamy was one of the two founders of the English School of the ‘prospect’ of ‘view’, culminating eventually in the landscapes and seascapes of Constable and Turner.