During the first decade of the 20th Century Munnings had completed his lithographer apprenticeship in Norwich and had returned to Mendham near to his family's mill on the River Waveney. There he had access to the numerous labourers who either farmed the area or worked with his father. As the valley was one of the most productive in East Anglia, there were endless motifs relating to agricultural activities. Scenes such as the one in the present work were familiar to Munnings as they had been very much part of his every-day life while growing up and many of the workers personally knew Munnings as his father's mill was the largest in the Waveney Valley. He sites in his memoirs that they would line up for hours waiting for Mr. Munnings to check the quality of the grain before unloading it.
The earliest dated scene of harvesting hay is 1902, and it was obviously a scene he not only could relate to, but one he enjoyed capturing on canvas. He exhibited many of these works at the Norwich Art Circle, the closest venue to exhibit works for sale at that time. The Hayfields (no. 36) and Haymakers (no. 133) were exhibited in 1903 and 1904 respectively. He painted these scenes experimenting in both oil and watercolour, which illustrate his masterly interpretation of the English landscape. As Nicholas Underwood wrote in the introduction to the Manchester Exhibition on 1986, 'Munnings is a painter of the English landscape scene of lyrical quality and historical importance'.
The present work work echoes that of George Clausen whose naturalistic approach to depicting the common man grandised the life of rural labourers. Although these figures feature as small vignettes within the scene, Munnings's innate sense of colour and light and the necessity of maintaining the colour balance between one element and another, emphasize the harmonious relationship between man and nature. The figures naturally and seamlessly blend into the landscape as if they are indeed a part of the very makeup of the land. As Munnings was unwaveringly true to his country roots throughout his lifetime, despite mixing with the some very aristocratic patrons, this belief of man's vital bond with nature in both real life and on canvas, it is not surprising he captured this relationship with such emotion.
Painting in the open air to capture the warmth of the sun as well as the activity itself, Munnings applies his paint with fluidity and gusto. He lavishes the hay mounds with pigment as solidly as the labourers physically construct the piles with the cut harvest.
We are grateful to Lorian Peralta Ramos for her help in preparing this catalogue entry. The picture will be included in her forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the work of Sir Alfred Munnings'.