Pike fishing in January together with Stranded (Bristol City Art Gallery) were the first pictures that Munnings exhibited at the Royal Academy, when he was merely twenty years old.
This early example of Munnings' preference for plein air observation was vividly described in the artist's autobiography:
'At the School of Art I was already painting still life oils, and soon began, on Saturday afternoons, to carry out box and easel to the country for landscape; but I badly wanted to find a model and do a figure somewhere outside.
In the press room room downstairs at Page Brothers two men were always at work... The younger man "Jumbo" Betts became and friend of mine. We arranged to.. leave on a Saturday (and go) to the river at Lakenham - imagine a quiet chill January afternoon, a grey sky, a sluggish narrow river between rows of bare pollarded willows with pale dead reeds and sedges along either bank. This being a small picture I carried it through in a painting with "Jumbo" Betts the model stamping his feet to keep warm. Hung on the line (at the Royal Academy) and sold for ten guineas - a vast sum' (op.cit., p.71).
The picture will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné, being prepared by Lorian Peralta Ramos.
Detailed below is a transcription of a signed letter from Munnings to W. Holden White, which is attached to the reverse of the canvas.
From Sir Alfred Munnings, P.P.R.A., K.C.V.O.
11th December, 1950
My Dear Sir,
Thank you for your grand letter. I note you are 'a dammed American*' who has lived and done all sorts of things here for the past seven years, and I note you have read my book, also that you are a brother-in-law of Lord Ismay's. One day if I could have your telephone number I would like to meet you and get a shock with that small picture of 'Pike Fishing in January' which you seem to have. It is most kind of you to write, and I appreciate it.
W. Holden White Esq.
* Your own expression.