Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Harbor Scene: An English Ship with Sails Loosened Firing a Gun

Peter Monamy (British, London 1681–1749 London)
Oil on canvas
48 x 59 in. (121.9 x 149.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of William P. Clyde, 1960
Accession Number:
Not on view
Formerly assigned to Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633–1707), this painting was reattributed in 1973 to Peter Monamy, known for his marine paintings, who may have been associated with the Van de Velde studio. One of Van de Velde’s autograph late works, signed and dated 1703 (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich), illustrates a similar ship and displays the greater variety and facility of that artist’s figural style, so different from what is seen here. The attribution to Monamy, suggested in 1963, was reaffirmed several times by M. S. Robinson (1963, 1964, 1971), formerly Curator of Paintings at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. He pointed out that Willem the Younger died in 1707, well before the accession of George I in 1714 and the adoption of the royal Hanoverian standard with the running white horse, which is depicted here.

The three-decker ship flies the admiralty flag at the fore and the Union flag at the mizzen in addition to the Hanoverian standard at the main. The crimson flag of the lord high admiral would have been understood at the time as a potent symbol of the British claim to sovereignty of the seas. Although the stern of the great vessel is similar to that of the Royal William, that ship cannot be identified with certainty as the one shown here because it was laid up throughout the period under consideration. Robinson (1971) believed that Monamy had been inspired instead by the putting to sea of the new Britannia in 1734.

The flagship depicted fires a salute to port, while a barge pulls away under its stern. The orderly repetition of the rowers suggests the precise timing that would have been expected of them, but their identical silhouettes—practically a Monamy trademark—show a certain lack of imagination. The composition is typical, as is the profile of the ship’s stern against the white plumes of smoke. A similar painting by Monamy (private collection), with the stern of the same ship and a royal yacht moving away, was exhibited at Leggatt Brothers, London, in 1970.

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Sir George Donaldson, Hove (sold for $20,000 to Clyde); William P. Clyde (by 1925–31; posthumous sale, American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, November 12, 1931, no. 47, as "British Frigate Firing a Broadside," by Willem van de Velde the Younger, for $3,000, bought in); his son, William P. Clyde, Washington, D.C. (1931–60)
Phoenix Art Museum. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Loan Collection: 'The River and the Sea'," February 15, 1967–February 15, 1968, no. 19 (as by Willem van de Velde the Younger).

M. S. Robinson. Letter to Claus Virch. November 7, 1963, suggests an attribution to either Peter Monamy or Thomas Woodcock.

M. S. Robinson. Letter to Claus Virch. February 3, 1964, favors an attribution to Monamy.

M. S. Robinson. Letter to John Walsh. October 23, 1971, observes that Monamy's composition is based on one favored by Willem van de Velde the Younger—mentioning as an example a signed and dated painting of 1703 showing the ship Royal Sovereign (National Maritime Museum), notes that the McDonald picture shows the same ship while the other variant shows a different one, suggests that the ship was painted from a model and that the picture was perhaps inspired by the putting to sea of the ship Britannia in 1734.

Richard Kingzett. Letter to Charles Moffett. January 31, 1983, firmly rejects the proposed attribution to Scott and thinks it likely that the picture is indeed by Monamy.

M. S. Robinson. Van de Velde: A Catalogue of the Paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde. Greenwich, 1990, vol. 2, pp. 600–601, no. 584 [4], p. 636, no. 541/5, ill., identifies the ship as a three-decker of a period later than 1707 (the year in which Willem van de Velde the Younger died), relating in many details to a mezzotint advertised for subscription beginning probably in 1725 which is inscribed "W. Van De Veld pinxt. E. Kirkall fecit" (British Museum, 1868 1-11-440).

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 34–36, no. 15, ill. (color).

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