Francis Swaine

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The Capture of the 'Foudroyant', 84 guns, by the 'Monmouth', 64 guns, 28 February 1758. Painting by F. Swaine. National Maritime Museum, London. "The Moonlight Battle"

Francis Swaine (1725–1782) was an English marine painter.

He was born in 1725, and christened on 7 October of that year at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, London. His parents were named Francis Swaine and Ann Joel. For many years, and in many reference books, it has been stated that as a young man he worked as an office messenger with the British Navy, but then left that employment to become an artist. However, in an item contained in The Catalogue of the National Archives, Navy Board: Out-letters ADM 354/151/167, it is stated that "Francis Swaine, Head Messenger to this Office, died yesterday. 1755, Oct 11." This Francis Swaine was the marine painter's father, born in 1691.

It was earlier thought that Francis Swaine the marine painter had been confused with another Francis Swain(e), who was christened on 22 June 1719 at St Botolph-without-Aldgate, London. However, it has recently been discovered that the man who served as a Navy Messenger until his death in 1755 was, in fact, the marine painter's father. It has also become clear that, as documented by his own words, March 5, 1734 (i.e. 1735 new style), this elder Francis Swaine had been involved with "little Labours in Drawing", and he also gave his occupation in the birth register of his youngest daughter in 1736 as "painter", although when registering the births of four previous children he had described himself as "gent". The archive document in question, ADM 106/875/84, records his application to become a Navy Messenger, and it states that he had served in the Navy in various capacities for "upwards of twenty-eight years". A marriage allegation dated 1714 documenting his intention to marry Ann Joel describes him as then a bachelor aged about 24 years. He is evidently the Francis Swaine whose baptism was registered on April 4, 1691, at St Bride's, Fleet Street, and he would have joined the Navy in about 1706, aged 14 or 15. What appears to be his will is recorded as an online document, PROB 11/824, and dated 1756. There is no evidence that Francis Swaine, the marine painter who began his gainful life as Peter Monamy's pupil, and was "his disciple and bred under him", ever worked as a messenger for the Navy Office.

Swaine is also said to have been influenced by the style of van de Velde. There is no clear evidence of this alleged influence. The suggestion that Swaine may have been a pupil of Charles Brooking can be dismissed, as the difference in age between the two painters was a mere two years, and there is no visual evidence to support any such influence. On the other hand, Swaine was demonstrably strongly influenced by the style of the painter Peter Monamy (1681–1749), whose pupil he was. In the will of Sir Samuel Young (1766–1826), son of Admiral Sir George Young (1733–1821), Francis Swaine is explicitly referred to as “Old Swaine, pupil of Monami”. In Mark Noble's Biographical History of England, 1806, under the entry for Monamy, it is also stated that "Swaine, of Stretton Ground, Westminster, his disciple, and bred under him, was an excellent painter of moon-light pieces." This remark is well confirmed by his "Capture of the Foudroyant" (see illustration), which is also referred to in at least one source (David Erskine) as "The Moonlight Battle". The French ship subsequently served in the English Fleet as the Foudroyant.

Swaine married Monamy's daughter Mary at Allhallows, London Wall, on 29 June 1749, when he was aged 24. Their children were christened Anna Maria Swaine, on 27th Jan 1750/51; and Monamy Swaine, christened on 27th Feb 1753, both at St Dunstan’s church in Stepney. Monamy Swaine also became a marine painter. Francis Swaine was a popular artist of his time and regularly displayed works at the Society of Artists of Great Britain and the Free Society of Artists. He died in 1782. Today, several of his works are held in the National Maritime Museum in London.