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

Evening at Mendham

Details
Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959)
Evening at Mendham
signed and dated 'A.J. Munnings/1909' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm.)
Provenance
Private Collection, Norfolk.
Special notice

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Lot Essay

Munnings' immense fondness for horses is demonstrated in this affectionate work which captures three ponies gathering at the water's edge. The composition is dominated by Auguereau, who Munnings described as 'the most picturesque of ponies - an artist's ideal' (A.J. Munnings, An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, p. 199). The image is quite different in mood to the more ostentatious display of the hunt or racecourse, subjects frequently favoured by the artist. Here the ponies are stripped of anything that might associate them with their employment, human interaction or ownership. They are as elemental as the water they drink and the meadow they tread, captured in their natural realm.

The artist maintained a lifelong fascination with the effects of light on water. He described his inspiration, 'Seeing the ponies there, drinking, started me off a fresh ... The water bright gold, with long, striped reflections; the white ponies mauve against the gold, the others a dark mass' (A.J. Munnings, op. cit., p. 239). In the present work the first pony stoops to drink, its gentle action causing concentric ripples across the liquid surface. The water is mildly agitated by a gentle breeze, split into particles of light and pigment. The multitude of colours present reflect the glorious sunset taking place overhead.

Detail becomes less decipherable as space recedes. The sharp contrasts in the glistening water achieved by the overshadowing clump of verdure on the opposite bank accentuates the feeling of time moving on, dusk being superseded by darkness and the day slipping away. The viewer is left with the sense that it is not long before all will be cast into a shadow of obscurity and the moment will be lost. Munnings presents the viewer with an almost spiritual vision of the horses solemnly processing to the water, which seems to be presented as a life-giving, nourishing element. The setting sun and complete lack of the evidence of human intervention in this landscape instil the work with a most pantheistic mood. The natural order of the land as a universal constant beyond human existence is presented to the viewer and preserved in this image for time immemorial. Nothing can taint this moment which will be forever untouched by humanity whose needs and wants are completely absent from the work, displaced by a utopian vision of peace.
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