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)

A barge on the Stour, Dedham

Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959)
A barge on the Stour, Dedham
signed 'A.J. MUNNINGS' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm.)
with Richard Green, London.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

Lot Essay

'It is a Constable day of soft breezes and clouds, of sunlight and shadows'

The son of a miller, Munnings grew up at Mendham Mill on the banks of the river Waveney in Norfolk. He was always attracted to its sights and sounds and recalled in his memoirs that the river was his playground. In later life, given a choice on a warm sunny afternoon between a day out sailing or a day at the races, he chose the water. His first exhibit at the Royal Academy, in 1899, was Stranded (Bristol City Art Gallery) depicting two children struggling with a rowing boat caught in the reeds. Rivers feature prominently in his plein-air studies, from early twentieth century watercolours of the Waveney valley through to a series of pictures of the river Barle at Brightworthy Ford on Exmoor which capture the transient effects of light on moving water.

By 1919 Munnings’s growing success as a painter enabled him to buy Castle House at Dedham, close to the river Stour. He described '…my joy… in knowing that my home was near a perfect river and village in an unspoilt country’. The wooded river valley of the Stour had been home to John Constable a century earlier and Munnings felt he was returning to his spiritual home.

Running through Dedham Vale, the Stour had been a crucial route for agricultural transport since the 18th Century. At first glance, the scene shows a barge, seemingly derelict, secured to the shore, under the distant tower of Dedham Church. However, on closer inspection, labourers are seen either loading or unloading. Under a dramatic cloud-filled sky, the sun shines on the meadow. The fluidity and enthusiasm with which Munnings has applied the paint suggests that the peaceful calm might be temporary.

Munnings returned to this view frequently over the forty years that he lived in Dedham, producing two major series of works inspired by the river; September Afternoon, depicting the artist’s wife and other models in a canoe in willowy, sun-dappled backwaters, and Barges on the river Stour painted in the 1930s which references Constable’s View on the Stour Near Dedham (Huntington Art Collections) (fig.1). For Munnings these pictures were not simply aesthetic scenes, but meaningful and poignant depictions of his rural surroundings, in response to the ravages of the modern world. Nearby rivers were being dammed and mechanisation was destroying many remaining rural industries, changes which Munnings’s continually lamented throughout his autobiography. Although this picture can be viewed as a record of a passing age, scenes such as these were heartfelt and offer a window into the artist’s soul.

We are grateful to Lorian Peralta-Ramos for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry. This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Sir Alfred Munnings.

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