During the years from 1912 until the outbreak of World War 1, Munnings hunted with the Western Foxhounds near Zennor on the craggy, north coast of Cornwall. 'Being in granite country, where the soil was shallow, huge masses of stone were built into walls ... it was the most picturesque and primitive place' (see A.J. Munnings, An Artist's Life, London, 1951, p. 275). He was attracted to the wild almost treeless, stone-walled landscape of Cornwall which was so very different to the 'vistas of hedgerow oaks and elm, woodlands, cornfields and low meadows' that there was in his native East Anglia (ibid, p. 271). Zennor, a coastal village north of Treen takes its name from an 11th Century female saint called St. Sinar.
Munnings used a local lad named Ned Osborne, who acted as groom/model as well as a brown mare that he had brought from East Anglia. The Zennor pictures often juxtaposed the formalized traditions of hunting with the primitive, barren and untamed landscape, man and nature, a comment perhaps that hunting is as ancient as nature itself.
Instead of incorporating his hunting subjects against a dense background of foliage, his Cornish subjects are often elevated, looming above the horizon, giving them a more prominent position on the landscape as if they take control of their immediate surroundings. Here the huntsman and whip dominate the landscape as solid forms among the sketchy impressions of hounds, moorland and sky. Although the huntsman and his horse are fluidly painted their salient details are articulated whereas only the essence of the other elements are distinguishable, rather like the soft focus of a camera lens. The whispy strokes of colour add to the movement of the figures and they attest to the passion with which Munnings tried to capture what he saw. He was always experimenting with light effects and here he has chosen an overcast day to test the blue-grey notes of colour in the sky and their reflection on a dark bay or black horse.
We are grateful to Lorian Peralta Ramos for her help in preparing this catalogue entry. The picture will be included in her forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the work of Sir Alfred Munnings.