This is a plein air sketch for the larger commissioned portrait Mrs. Robert Rankin and her Daughters, Broughton Towers (40 x 60 in.) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1922. This painting was sold at Christie's, London, 1 March 1968, lot 194. He must have been very pleased with this commission as he chose to illustrate the portrait in three of his books: Pictures of Horses and English Country Life, 1927, no. XIX, pl. 33, Pictures of Horses and English Country Life, 1939, illustrated p. 125 and in volume two of his memoirs The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, illustrated after p. 136.
Munnings painted very few portraits of people without horses. While in the United States in 1924, Munnings painted another family, Mr. and Mrs. Prince dressed in evening attire (op. cit., 1951, illustrated after p. 320) but he was staying with the family for an extended period of time and it is set in an interior. He also painted other artists at work (Laura Knight Painting, Castle Museum, Norwich) as was common with many painters but a family in an extensive landscape is unique in his oeuvre.
In 1922, he undertook several equine portraits but in his biography it is the more unusual works that he takes time to describe, 'Besides these, there were two other commissions - one without a sight of a horse - of Mrs. Robert Rankin, who had been a Herkomer student at Bushey, and her daughters, painted at Broughton Towers in Cumberland, on a lawn amongst hills, with a large, castellated mansion in the park below. Although the sun shines in the picture, it never ceased raining all the time I was there, except for one day which was Grasmere Sports, and there I saw high-jumping with a pole, wrestling on a green lawn and hound trials over a ten-mile point.' (op. cit. p. 139).
Mrs. Renée Rankin was the first wife of Sir Robert Rankin, Bt. (1877-1960). In 1922 when this picture was painted he was Mr. Robert Rankin and he was given the Baronetcy in 1937, after the couple had divorced. Their eldest daughter was later Mrs. Corise Shaw and the younger became Lady Grandy. Broughton Tower, the seat of Sir Robert Rankin, is near Furness, Lancashire. It is a mansion occupying an elevated situation a short distance from the town. It has been greatly modernised and considerable additions and improvements have been made in recent years, but the old tower still remains. Pevsner described it thus, 'A spacious mansion built round a 14th Century pele tower. On the north side the tower is visible up to about sixty feet. Its basement is tunnel-vaulted, as usual, and the spiral staircase survives. The Gilpin Sawreys in the mid-18th Century...built the house and especially the charming centre of the south front. The porch with clustered shafts is uncommonly pretty...In 1882-3 the wings were added, keeping on the front in harmony with the Georgian work.' (N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Lancashire 2, The Rural North, London, 1969, p. 78.)