Peter Monamy (London 1681-1749)
Peter Monamy (London 1681-1749)

The flagship Royal Sovereign saluting at the Nore

Peter Monamy (London 1681-1749)
The flagship Royal Sovereign saluting at the Nore
signed 'P: Monamy. P.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
34½ x 41 in. (87.6 x 104.2 cm.)
with The Rutland Gallery, London.

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Lot Essay

Designed by Surveyor Harding and built under his direction, the second Royal Sovereign to serve in the fleet was a majestic three-decker measured at 1,883 tons and 174 feet in length with a 50 foot beam. With a principal armament of 28-32pdrs. on her gundeck, she further mounted 28-18pdrs. on her maindeck and 28-9pdrs. on her upper deck, with additional 6pdrs. on the quarterdeck, forecastle and roundhouse (or poop) to give a total of 102 guns. In terms of sheer firepower, she was a worthy successor to her earlier namesake although the grandeur and lavishness of her external carvings and decoration were also just as spectacular. Indeed, it is intriguing to speculate just how much of her cost was attributable to all this splendid though needless finery, an issue which assumes even greater importance once her career is examined. Launched on 25th May 1701 and commissioned for sea under Captain John Fletcher, her first operational rôle was as flagship to Sir George Rooke when the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1702. Rooke's initial objective was the capture or destruction of Cadiz and, to this end, the fleet he had assembled left Spithead on 19th June (1702). Arriving at their intended anchorage near Cadiz on 12th August, Rooke then displayed "an ominous lack of energy" which resulted in the failure of the several operations to take the city and a complete withdrawal a month later. From there, Rooke took the fleet to Vigo Bay where, on 12th October (1702), he partially restored his reputation not only by destroying the French fleet at anchor there, but also by seizing the Spanish treasure galleons it was guarding. Millions in specie were captured yet one of the most curious aspects of the affair was that Rooke transferred his flag to the 80-gun Somerset beforehand and Royal Sovereign took no part in the action whatsoever.

One possible explanation could be that Rooke was under orders not to damage, let alone hazard, his flagship by exposing her to enemy fire such was her status as the symbolic flagship of the entire Navy and, in effect, a national icon. There is no documentary evidence to support such a theory yet it remains a mystifying fact that she never participated in any of the great sea-fights of her era despite several periods as flagship to successive commanding admirals. For unspecified reasons, she was effectively rebuilt by Master Shipwright J. Rosewell at Chatham between 1723 and 1729, even though details of her later career are equally sparse. Reclassed as a 90-gun 2nd Rate in 1756, three years later she was made Guardship in the Downs, a position of some significance, especially in time of war, as was the case from 1756-63. Further reduced to an 80-gun ship in 1763, perhaps as a result of the restoration of peace, she was broken up at Chatham a few years later, probably in 1766 although some sources state 1768. This lack of clarity concerning the precise year of her demise somehow reflects the whole of her sixty-year career which started with such promise yet achieved so little.

This attractive work is derived from one of the Van de Velde portraits of this great ship which inspired a number of artists. For another very similar composition, see Frank Cockett's Peter Monamy, 1681-1749, and His Circle, published 2000, front dust jacket and p. 72, pl. 40.

Peter Monamy was born in London in 1681, the youngest son of a Guernseyman. Throughout his career he was heavily influenced by the works of Willem van de Velde, the Younger, as evident in the work illustrated above, and other North European, Dutch and French masters. Monamy was himself a collector of van de Velde's drawings and these clearly influenced his development as a maritime painter resulting in numerous commissions from mercantile and naval patrons, including the famous Channel Island's naval families, the Durrels and the Saumarezs. In 1726, he was elected a Liveryman of the Company of Painter-Stainers, to which he presented a very large painting of the 'Royal Sovereign at anchor' which still remains in their collection. Although his paintings usually depict actual ships, they rarely record specific events as, up until 1739, his career coincided with a long period of peace. From the 1730s until his death, Monamy was at the centre of London's artistic life and was a friend and companion of Hogarth, sometimes collaborating with the celebrated younger artist. Despite his many commissions however, he was never particularly prosperous and also painted decorative pictures specifically for commercial galleries and dealers.

Monamy was survived by his wife, and two daughters. It is interesting to note, that his eldest daughter, Mary, married the marine painter Francis Swaine.

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