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

The Whip

Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (British, 1878-1959)
The Whip
oil on panel
30¼ x 30¼ in. (76.8 x 76.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1922
with Frost and Reed, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

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Deborah Coy
Deborah Coy

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Lot Essay

The present work appears to be one of a series painted by Munnings while living in Cornwall from 1911 until the First World War. Inspired by these compositions of a huntsman among fir trees in Trevelloe Woods, he recreated a similar scene at his home at Castle House in the East Anglia village of Dedham shortly after his marriage to Violet McBride in the 1920s.

Munnings has painted his grey mare Peggy, out of his Cornish horse The Duchess by Adulah, that was foaled while he resided in Cornwall during the war. 'She was all I could wish for in manner and looks' (A. J. Munnings, Second Burst, London, 1951, p. 179).

Munnings has painted Peggy with extreme care and sensitivity, more so than any in his Trevelloe Wood series. With a portraitist's eye, Munnings has articulated that the horse's attention has been alerted. His ears are pricked, his eye keenly focused and his nostrils extended in order to inhale whatever it is that has attracted his attention. Munnings has captured the intensity of that interest which in turn alerts the viewer that something is about to happen. The horse however is obviously not concerned as indicated by his relaxed hind leg posed on the tip of the right hoof.

As Munnings juxtaposed the concentration of the horse's attention with his relaxed body position, he has also contrasted the detail in which he painted the equine head with the rest of the canvas. Radiating out from the detail of the head, the focus of the painting becomes softer and the brushwork less precise. This is a hallmark of Munnings' style but the articulation of Peggy's head goes beyond his norm. The sensitivity with which he painted the head communicates the care he had for this horse.

The fall of light in this work is beautiful. Light illuminates Peggy's head and chest and forms a glowing puddle around his front hooves but his body is in shadow. The huntsman too is bathed in sunlight yet he clearly is not the subject of the picture. Munnings has used the red of his coat as the key note in the work and made it the predominant hue throughout the canvas with varying degrees of subtlety or strength. In addition, Munnings has surrounded the figures with patches of bright sunlight -- the puddle at Peggy's hooves, on the ground behind his tail and to the left of the tree and opened a hole in the density of overhead branches to indicate sky around the whip's head.

We are grateful to Lorian Peralta-Ramos for her help in preparing this catalogue entry and for confirming the authenticity of this work, which will be included in her forthcoming Munnings catalogue raisonné.

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