By the early 1920s Munnings had established a growing practice as a portrait painter, earning regular commissions each year to paint Masters of hounds, huntsmen, and various notables on horseback. As Munnings mused in his autobiography ‘I have often wondered had there been no 1914-18 war whether painting people on horseback would have absorbed the best part of my efforts in the years that followed.’ (A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, London, 1951, p. 137).
In January 1918 Munnings was commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook's Canadian War Memorials Fund to paint the actions of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade on the Western Front. For several months, he immortalised their activities in a series of fluid plein air studies, including a number of equestrian portraits of the officers, most memorably Major-General the Right Hon. Jack Seely on his horse Warrior. These portraits were shown at the Royal Academy in January 1919 alongside his Canadian War records, to great acclaim, and probably hastened his election as an A.R.A. later that year. In the summer exhibition of that year Munnings included a portrait of Lord Athlone in uniform on horseback, where it was prominently displayed in the first room. This led to many commissions which continued to preoccupy the artist until the outbreak of the Second World War.
One such painting was John J. Moubray, Master of Foxhounds, dismounted with his wife and two mounted figures with the Bedale hounds in a landscape. Moubray was M.F.H. of the Bedale from 1904-5, and again from 1910-20. Originally hailing from Naemoor, Perthshire he had moved to Yorkshire (the Bedale hunt kennels are in Northallerton) when he married a local girl, Miss Booth, in 1893. The present work was commissioned by Moubray in 1920 to commemorate his time as Master of the Bedale, and exhibited at the Academy in 1922. Munnings recalled the piece fondly:
‘Mr Mowbray [sic.], Master of the Bedale, was the living image of what we all expect “John Bull” to be. He was, without question, the best type of Englishman I ever saw. Both he and his wife came to London for sittings, and after that I went to stay at the Catterick Bridge Hotel to paint horses and hounds. From there he showed me that part of the Yorkshire country in his car. … I admired Mr. Mowbray and I shall not forget him as long as I retain one vestige of memory.’ (op. cit., pp. 142-3)
Munnings worked outdoors sketching the family’s hunters and the hounds in order to work these studies up into the final, large canvas (fig. 1, A bay hunter (recto); and Bedale Truman (verso), sold Christie's, New York, 27 January 2010, lot 184). In letters to his wife Violet, he recounted how he used the car to explore Richmond and its surrounds ‘I have been seeing some wonderful country!’ … ‘woods and fields going farther and farther on – dipping down into pale grey misty lines, until they disappeared, and the blue of the hills behind ended.’ (op. cit., p. 144). His delight in the beauty of the area and its autumnal colours of gold, yellow and brown found its way into the canvas he was working on. Whilst the eye is naturally drawn to the scarlet coat of Moubray, and the gleaming flanks of his horse, it is then pulled further into the picture by the distant hills painted in shades of green, blue, purple and brown. The light falls across the canvas from the left, illuminating the ruins of Richmond Castle seen beyond the distant huntsman. Munnings was a master at creating depth and perspective in his portrait commissions, and this was used to great effect in another Yorkshire scene, The Bramham Moor Hounds at Weeton Whin, painted a few years later and sold in these Rooms on 11 July 2019, lot 53, £2,171,250 (fig. 2).
We are grateful to the Curatorial staff at The Munnings Art Museum, and Lorian Peralta-Ramos for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.