Photo credit: Bromley Historic Collections
Our query relates to a series of painted wall panels found in Skilton’s and Isard’s shop, Bromley, which we have dated to about 1710–1750 (https://bit.ly/3xRw2DG). The building, which was a pub in Bromley Market Square, was known as the 'Queens Head' in 1717 and 'The Bull' in 1743 until its closure in 1773. We think they are reminiscent of stage 'scene paintings' or prints and include ships, Edinburgh Castle and a Swiss alpine 'Lodge'. In later years, the paintings were covered in dark wood varnish - possibly to hide them? Could this possibly be due to the fact that the new business that took over the space may have seen the paintings as cheesy and typical of a rough drunken pub? They were discovered and revealed in the mid-twentieth century during conservation and were cleaned after generations of hiding. If you look at them you can see that they are rather dirty and brown tinted in places where some varnish remains. One of our volunteers have said that the walls were covered in similar painted panels typical of the generic art style of the mid 18th Century. They depicted floral images, naval scenes, landscapes, castles and all kinds of other traditional delicate paintings. We have always puzzled over the random themes amongst the series and why they would be decorating a pub – would this have been typical for the C18th? Would the artist have been especially commissioned? Would it have been a known artist or just a regular at the pub?! Do the naval battles represent a particular war? Why would navy scenes have been painted here this far in-land?!
This discussion is now closed. The attribution has been changed from ‘unknown’ to British School and the panels dated mid to late 18th century. ‘The Bull’ panels are noted as a rare survival of good vernacular decoration; other marine examples of this kind are not currently known. The complete set includes one that is now at Compton Verney.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.
In 2014 I raised an Art UK discussion that has never become a public discussion about another of these panels which is now at Compton Verney:
(I'm not sure it will all come through en bloc, but if not will copy and paste the relevant passages)
That seems to work, at least for me: the only immediate thing to add is that while decorative work by someone who knew their ships, there's nothing in it, 'per se' which suggests the artist was a (theatrical) scene-painter.
Hi Pieter, the link leads to a "page you requested is not here" page.
The painting Pieter refers to is here https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/a-three-masted-ship-at-sea-54721
The panel at Compton Verney appears to be misdated as early 19th century. It is also listed as after Isaac Sailmaker (d. 1721), but based on dating, it might conceivably be by him.
Clearly I can link to a 'proposed discussion' that I have started (as above) but no one else can.
These are my comments on the Compton Verney painting as per Alistair's link above:
[14 Nov 2014] Albeit badly damaged, this is an interesting survival of vernacular decoration and apparently by rather a good hand -certainly more fluent that Isaac Sailmaker (to which I do not think there is any reason to connect it or the van de Veldes). The slightly incoherent description attached suggests it was painted about 1814, but the ship shown is mid-eighteenth century and probably a two-decker rather than three, though a little hard to tell: it is wearing the pennant of a private (i.e. a captain's) ship rather the flag of an admiral which tends to support that. The Union quadrant of the red ensign appears to be pre-1801 (ie no red St Patrick saltire cross) and the lateen yard still in use on the mizzen disappears from large ships in favour of a gaff in the early to mid 1790s. The ship date is therefore probably 1750s-80s at latest, and by someone who was used to painting them. A sea fight is suggested to the right. More information would be useful, including any historic inn names in Bromley (Kent, or elsewhere?) which might fit with it.
[20. Nov. 2014]
This is a supplementary note to my initial comment above.
(1) There is is a report and four small photos of much taller panels, two with shipping scenes and two with landscapes, in the 'Illustrated London News' of 23 August 1958, p. 313, when these were on loan in an exhibition running to December that year at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading. The explanatory caption reads: 'These four panels belong to a group of about twenty (mostly measuring 5 ft 4 ins by 2 ft) discovered and saved during the demolition of an eighteenth-century coaching inn, formerly in the Market Square, at Bromley. They are believed to be of the early eighteenth century...'.
There were in fact about 16 of these panels, including landscape and decorative ones, and the name of the inn from 1743 was 'The Bull': they can be seen on Your Paintings in the Bromley Museum collection.
However, it sounds too much of a coincidence to have two Bromley coaching inns with this sort of decoration in them so did this one in fact somehow break loose?
(2) Further, in 1938 the National Maritime Museum acquired at auction three similar vertical format marine panels of very similar type from the collection of Colonel B.T.L. Thompson (from whom it also acquired the famous Canaletto view of Greenwich), but in this case measuring 5 ft x 30-33 ins. These are attributed to Monamy Swaine, (b. circa 1750 -c. 1800) and one, NMM BHC2234, is specifically dated 1793: all can be seen on 'Your Paintings' but only one on the NMM web pages.
The present ship portrait is too damaged to be sure it is by Swaine, though the ship is in the same orientation of the NMM ship portrait generally attributed to him of HMS 'Victory' going down Channel in 1793 (of c. 1795), but its a great deal closer to him than to Sailmaker in both manner and date.
[Compton Verney on 24 Sept 2020 acknowledged the comments above as interesting and useful and I added as follows on 25 Sept 2020]
Unless the collection is wedded to the current description, this might be better described as 'A late-18th-century Royal Naval warship under sail in port broadside view.' The condition is interesting: it is hard to tell if its a case of damage or its the early stages of a painting that was never finished.
That is as far as it goes: Comton Verney have not ticked the box to open that discussion publicly and Alistair has now referred them to this new and related one.
At the moment the best I can say is that we are looking at a late 18th-century ( probably c. 1760s-80s) British hand with some similarity in terms of format to three known works by Monamy Swaine but that doesn't pin his name on the Bromley ones (including that at CV as one those).
I suspect reason the Compton Verney one 'broke loose' is related to its donor, who was Enid Marx the designer:
She taught at Bromley College of Art in the mid-50s at the time they were discovered when the building of the Old Bull Inn was demolished in 1957:
It had previously been split between a butchers and a general store some time in the 19th Century, so it looks like it was use as an inn after 1773. But they could well have been covered over for some time, presumably as not being suitable or unhygienic for the building's new uses.
It's possible that when demolition happened, the local art lecturers may have been asked if the panels had any value and Marx may have bought or taken one when the remainder were given/sold to the local museum.
The Bull probably operated as a coaching inn (like the nearby Bell which is mentioned for that purpose in Pride and Prejudice) which may explain why it became shops when the railways took that business away. As such it might be fairly upmarket and paintings, especially of travel and distant places might be seen as suitable decoration. These are clearly more accomplished than folk art and look professionally done.
Thanks Mark: I hadn't realised (or checked) that Enid Marx had that local connection, and a good explanation for one of these pieces being at Compton Verney albeit - as you say - the hand is more professional than EM's usual collecting taste or most known 'sign-board' work: no doubt it was as vernacular 'applied art' that it appealed. The whole lot is a rare survival and i can't recall other marine equivalents.
If you go to Bromley Library on Art UK -there are a few of the panels -I count 18 ish:-) . Looking at one of the panels -sternview of ship- looks a bit 17th century to me ? possibly?
What I find so tragic is that in the 1950's and 60's heritage buildings were just knocked down willy nilly,when people DID know better. Don't mention the Victorians to me!!.Quite a few here in Ipswich were demolished.
Looking at the Compton Verney-- Looks to me-to the right- a sinking ship. BTW. Nice to see a marine artist get the sails and flags all in the correct direction !!!
The v de Velde roots are there but more via Peter Monamy (d. 1749) than Sailmaker - as just a scan of the Monamys on Art UK also shows, though whether from sight of oils or prints is an open question. And the Bromley pictures are not just marine but fairly clearly all by the same hand, so its someone 'decorative' who could turn their hand to various subjects.
One might ask if the castle shown is as imaginary as it looks (though it has a step gable one tends to see on Scottish ones). If, as I hazard from the shipping it is, probably mid-second-half of 18th century its also unusual to see 'Alpiney' snow scenes then of which there is one. That said, if it were a 19th century decorator deliberately pastiching 'Monamy and followers' (i.e Brooking, Scott et al) he is doing it very convincingly.
I'm loathe to keep this one running indefinitely as I doubt we are going to get further towards an artist by usual Art UK means. At some point a more scientific approach to date the panels or pigments more precisely might help. My recommendation for the moment would be that 'unknown artist' changes to 'British school, mid- to late 18th century, and both Bromley and Compton Verney take note (including that the complete 'Bull Inn' group includes the one that has strayed to Compton Verney). As far as I know, everything as yet known about them is covered above.
This painting has only been under discussion for a few weeks. If it remains open for more time more useful information may still be provided.