• Victorian & British Impression auction at Christies

    Sale 7788

    Victorian & British Impressionist Pictures Including Drawings and Watercolours

    16 December 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 6

    Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S., (1878-1959)

    Horses and gypsy caravans

    Price Realised  


    Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S., (1878-1959)
    Horses and gypsy caravans
    signed and dated 'A J Munnings/1911' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm.)

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    Purchased from the artist by Col. F.E. Walter, Thorpe Market, Norfolk and thence by descent to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Works from the Colonel F.E. Walter Collection of Pictures by Sir Alfred Munnings

    There have been few occasions over the last century when an entire collection of Munnings' early paintings has become available for sale - the Hardy Collection in 1989 and the Bunting Collection in 2002 being the most notable. The present collection comprises examples that showcase early works that were executed just after Munnings returned from study at L'Atelier Julian in Paris. His European experiences provided him with first hand exposure to the avant garde impressionist techniques and theories prevalent on the Continent. This experience reinforced what he had already absorbed from the works of La Thangue, a fellow painter whom Munnings much admired, 'who showed the beauties of sunlight', the benefits of painting in the open air and looser more fluid brushwork.

    The pictures presented here reflect a more spontaneous and fluid style for Munnings and the beginning of his mastery of reflective colour theory which was to become one of his greatest trademarks. The works are evocative documents of bygone days prior to World War I when rural and agricultural life ceased to be dependent on the horse and rural depictions were becoming increasingly factual and less idealized.

    Munnings nostalgically recalls those painting days in Suffolk: 'its corners, by lanes and meadows were my painting grounds. In or out of sight of a road or footpath, a canvas and easel, with models posing as I worked, became an everyday occurrence' (An Artist's Life, p. 166). During the summers, between 1906 and 1911, Munnings would travel throughout East Anglia with bands of horses and ponies, a caravan and grooms and when a painting spot aroused his inspiration, he would battle the elements to record the ever changing effects of the atmosphere on his subjects (as illustrated in lots 6,7, and 8) with the different depictions of the ponies with caravans.

    Horses and ponies were a natural part of the landscape in early Edwardian days and Munnings depicts them in moments away from routine work. He captures their disposition as they plod along the roads or leisurely rest under trees or by gypsy caravans. As the son of a prominent local miller, horses were an integral part of the landscape in his own life and he had studied equine physique and character from childhood.

    We can only speculate how much the complete loss of vision in one eye strengthened the visual abilities in his remaining eye, but his acute sensitivity for colour and nuance are legendary. Not only was he able to accurately render his subjects but he credibly set them within their painted background creating complete tonal balance. On account of Munnings' unwavering practice of painting en plein air, his equine subjects are not cut outs, placed on a background, but all highlights and shadows are harmoniously balanced throughout the canvas.

    Munnings' memoirs indicate that his early years prior to his launch into fame as a society artist, were perhaps his happiest. He was able to roam the countryside at will painting those subjects that inspired his creativity. 'Such days and such life were only possible in the environment of that pre-war period up to 1914. Rural England has never been the same playground for the artist since' ('Reflections of the Past', The Studio, vol. 128, 1944, p. 75).

    He writes of his early years after his lithographers' apprenticeship and when these present works were executed, 'Fresh discoveries of all that paint could do led me on. What joy there was in finding out and seeing colour - becoming aware of beauties in everything, beauties never seen before I lived a painter's paradise' (An Artist's Life, p. 97).

    We are grateful to Lorian Peralta Ramos for her help in preparing this introduction and for the subsequent catalogue notes. This collection will be included in her forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the work of Sir Alfred Munnings.

    The Property of the Estate of the Late Mrs M.A. Griffin, Sold by Order of the Executors.