Munnings grew up at Mendham Mill on the Waveney River in a house situated literally over the large waterwheel that created the power for his father's mill, the largest in the Waveney Valley. The constant sound of water, either gushing through the waterwheel or flowing gently past was music to Munnings's ears all his life and inspired his creative visions. In An Artist's Life, he recalled 'the ceaseless, busy hum of the mill, and the sound of the water as it eddied and swirled from underneath the dark, cavernous space where the large water-wheel turned, sending out a delicious pungent smell, the very essence of the river's life' (p. 256).
The peacefulness of a river suited Munnings's nostalgic nature and throughout his memoirs he recalls his unfailing love for the river. 'I long to sit by a river and paint', he wrote in his memoirs (Second Burst, p. 209). 'My one joy, thirty years ago was in knowing that my home was near a perfect river and village in an unspoiled country' (ibid., p. 49).
Munnings's earliest known river scene, a watercolour, was of a rowing boat on the edge of a river, dated 1896. He exhibited many watercolour river scenes in the Norwich Art Circle as early as 1897 (An Unkempt Stream) and selected a river scene as his first Royal Academy entry in 1899, Pike Fishing in January. Although, known as a painter of colourful racehorses, Munnings's second love was sailing and he admits in his memoirs that on a beautiful sunny day, it would be difficult to choose between going to races or to sail.
In the present work, Munnings appears to have experimented with the limited colour palette offered by the grey overcast sky. His interest in tones was ever-present as he enjoyed the challenge of creating colour from essentially a single hue. He uses this same flat-bottom skip, with the solid tower of Mendham church looming in the distance, in other works, primarily in various images of reed-cutters (e.g. Reed-cutters at Mendham, Philip's, London, 4 December 2001, lot 48).
We are grateful to Lorian Peralto Ramos for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.