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The Burning of HMS Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672

Peter Monamy, The Burning of HMS Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672, oil on canvas, 890 x 1295 mm, dated 18th century. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection

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The Battle of Solebay was a popular theme in the genre of the historic seascape in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In his composition Peter Monamy (1681-1749) plays out the entire scope of the drama and action of the first battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672-74. On 28 May 1672 ninety-eight ships of the Anglo-French fleet under James, Duke of York, and 75 ships under Admiral de Ruyter engaged in a fight both parties later claimed to have won. One Dutch success was the destruction of the 100-gun ‘Royal James’ by fireships, but their fleet finally had to withdraw. Monamy divides the picture space into a dark foreground zone, where sailors on two small rowing boats are locked in close combat shooting each other with pistols amidst floating wreckage, and a more theatrically lit background. Here, the tall three-masters are firing their guns at one another, wrapping the scene in clouds of smoke that blur the horizon and mingle with the sky thereby locking the vessels together in the fight. The burning wreck of the ‘Royal James’ itself is depicted in dark silhouette and shifted to the right of the composition. The painting is signed. Peter Monamy was one of the first English artists to continue the tradition of Willem van de Velde the Younger’s marine painting into the 18th century and his work is representative of the early British school of maritime art, which still shows the overwhelming influence of the Dutch style. Monamy was self-taught, but may have worked in van de Velde’s studio in Greenwich.

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