There is an overwhelming sense of freedom in this exceptionally dynamic watercolour of a medley of ponies galloping over Norfolk's Ringland Hills. Munnings shows Shrimp riding bareback, his left hand holding a simple rope halter, his right hand raised slightly as his mount flies forward, its legs blurred with speed. The yellow scarf around Shrimp's neck catches the wind, and manes and tails of the ponies stream behind them. Silhouetted against a pale, cloudy sky the drama is captured with all the immediacy and spontaneity which the medium of watercolour allows.
Ponies Galloping belongs to the series of works which Munnings produced in the summers of 1910 and 1911 on expeditions to his favourite painting grounds on Ringland Hills. Lying just six miles west of Norwich the hills were within easy reach of the artist's home at Church Farm in Swainsthorpe. Gathering together a string of horses and ponies, his lad Bob and the gypsy boy Shrimp, Munnings travelled to Ringland, making his headquarters at inns such as The Falcon at Costessey. He recalled, 'In Norfolk I used to buy my various models about May - one or two ponies from this man, and one from that - and get the string of them together; take my man and gipsy boy and go off with a caravan for the summer, staying in a place where I could find meadows for my ponies, an inn for myself, and a place for the caravan, the two men sleeping in this' (see N. Garstin, 'The Paintings of A.J. Munnings', The Studio, vol. 59, 1913, p. 260).
On Ringland Hills Munnings painted Shrimp and the ponies in an endless variety of compositions. 'Having my own models gave me endless themes. The mere sight of the ponies, coming or going, or different placing of groups gave me fresh pictures. Like a game of chess, there was no end to it' (An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, p. 238). Similar but less dynamic compositions include, Leading ponies on Ringland Hills, 1911 (Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum, Dedham; see Lorian Peralta-Ramos, The Mastery of Munnings, New York, 2000, illustrated p. 21) and Shrimp riding the dun-coloured horse on Ringland Hills (see A.J. Munnings, An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, illustrated between pp. 168 and 169).
Ponies Galloping is however, exceptional within the Ringland Hills series and within Munnings oeuvre as a whole. While he painted numerous works showing horses in action, few of these captured the fleeting moment when a galloping horse has all four legs suspended off the ground beneath it. Even through the camera had revealed the true nature of the horse's galloping motion in 1882, very few artists attempted to record this instant. In Ponies Galloping Munnings took up the challenge and painted one of his most exciting works.
For further information about Munnings's painting expeditions to Ringland Hills with Shrimp in 1910 and 1911 see notes to lots 4, 7 and 9.