The present watercolour is closely related to Munnings's oil painting of 1904, A White Slave (Oldham Museum and Art Gallery; see S. Booth, Sir Alfred Munnings 1878-1959, London, 1978, illustrated p. 61). Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1905 as Leaving the Fair, the oil painting's setting could be any one of the fairs in Norfolk and Suffolk which Munnings frequented from his home at Church Farm in Swainsthorpe, near Norwich. These included Lavenham Horse Fair in Suffolk where 'I saw the scenes which started me off painting horse fairs' (An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, p. 139) and Bungay Fair where there were 'roundabouts, shooting-galleries, swinging-boats and coconut shies; large eating and drinking-tents, flags flying, and thousands of oranges blazing on stalls in the sun. I had never seen such droves of ponies and gypsy lads' (op. cit., p. 65). Scenes such as these inspired Munnings to paint a number of horse fair pictures including for example, The Suffolk Horse Fair, Lavenham, 1901 (Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum, Dedham; see S. Booth, op. cit., illustrated p. 43) and A Gala Day, 1902 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston; see S. Booth, op. cit., illustrated p. 51).
The pony shown leaving the fair in the present work has presumably just been purchased. It is probably George Curzon, Munnings's groom-cum-model during his years at Swainsthorpe, who leads the pony forward, replacing the figure of Nobby Gray who posed with his wife Charlotte for the earlier oil painting. In both versions another favourite model, Pod Aldous, drives the cart behind. Munnings recalled, 'Pod Aldous and Ned Aldous, types bred in every village since the Stone Age ... were always ready, if about, to do anything in the standing or sitting line for a pint, or, better still, a quart. Pod Aldous was swarthy and secretive-looking, with beady, glowering black eyes, always on the move, and while those eyes turned to left or right, his head never budged between hunched-up shoulders ... A black clay pipe was always in his mouth and an old black bowler right down over the back of his head. He affected a higgler's [fowl dealer's] style of dress - black, faded and soiled' (op. cit., pp. 111-12).
Munnings felt a tremendous pathos for the plight of horses which were still used for transport and hauling in the early years of the twentieth century. Here the captive White Slave is held firmly in hand as it is marched through the fair. The laid back ears and turned head appear to signify a degree of noncompliance which contrasts with the placidity of the cart horse plodding obediently behind.