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Monamy was fascinated by the phenomenon of ships ablaze and by the challenge of handling the variation in light and shade
in such scenes. He was the first English painter to be interested in such subject matter and his acquired skill became very
much his speciality. He passed on this interest to his son-in- law, Francis Swaine (1725-1782), who also produced a large
number of similar scenes.
The scene depicted is thought to be the aftermath of the Battle of Vigo Bay, 23rd October 1702. At the start of the War of
the Spanish Succession a joint Anglo-Dutch expedition, under the joint command of Philips van Almonde and of Admiral
George Rooke, set out to capture Cadiz and thereby to secure a base in the Iberian Peninsula. The amphibious assault on Cadiz
proved little short of a disaster and the force fell back. Shortly afterwards, on his way back to Britain, Rooke received
intelligence that the annual Spanish treasure fleet, on its return from South America, had sheltered in Vigo Bay, under the
protection of French ships-of-the-line. A combined operation neutralised the forts protecting the Franco-Spanish fleet and
the British vanguard, led by Brooke, broke a protective boom and attacked the enemy fleet. The ferocious attack proved
overwhelmingly successful. Vigo Bay proved a major naval defeat for the combined enemy fleet: all fifteen ships of the line,
two frigates and a fire-ship on the French side were captured or burned. A similar fate awaited the Spanish contingent, with
three galleons and thirteen trading ships captured or sunk. The only disappointment lay in the prior unloading of much of
the treasures from South America and, ironically, much of the seized cargo belonged to Dutch merchants. Nonetheless, the
outcome of the victory was to persuade the vacillating Portuguese to transfer their reluctant allegiance from the Grand
Alliance of France and Spain to that of the Maritime Powers as well as to enrich modestly the victorious combatants.
|Height||29.20 cm||(11.50 inches)|
|Width||75.60 cm||(29.76 inches)|