Munnings illustrates his skill at capturing reflective light in this en plein air study. He has used a vibrant blue and green in the coat of Bitter Sweet and also incorporated these colors into the background, which in the full portrait, showed the Pyrenees in the distance. The finished commission is shown in part in Munnings' autobiography (fig. 1).
Munnings reflects in his memoirs on his stay with Mr. and Mrs. Harry La Montagne whilst he undertook this commission, 'But to my arrival at Pau - at the Villa Regina, occupied by the La Montagnes. It was Mrs. La Montagne that I went to paint; a good-looking, smart American woman who made short visits to London merely to have her habits cut by Busvines, of world-wide fame. This well-turned-out lady was supplied by her devoted husband with superb horses. She was not one of the hard-riding brigade, but she certainly was a horsewoman, and rode for safety in what was a trappy country. During and in between those sittings, in the mildest of climates, in spite of its being so near Christmas, I saw the Pyrenees - I saw the plain of Tarbes - I saw Lourds...On whatever day I was painting - be it the grounds of the Villa, the dining room, or stable yard - always in the distance there stretched the long range of the Pyrenees. The mountains looked a few miles away, or forty miles away, according to the weather and nearness of the rain. These distant snow-covered mountains, with the plain of Tarbes in between, could be the only background for Mrs. La Montagne on her horse...La Montagne cheered at the sight of the portrait of his wife in a silk hat and habit, on a bay horse, distant snow-clad mountains and all' (A.J. Munnings, Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, pp. 100-1).
Another study of Bitter Sweet (exhibited New York, Wildenstein, 1953) is dated January 1923 although Munnings memoirs indicate the date of his stay was before Christmas 1920.
This work will be included in Lorian Peralta-Ramos's forthcoming catalogue raisonée of the works of Sir Alfred Munnings.