Gypsy Camp from 1906, dates from when the artist was living at Church Farm, Swainsthorpe in Norfolk. The gypsy way of life which Munnings observed and to some extent adopted during the summer months was a subject close to his heart. He had known and seen gypsy encampments from an early age just outside his native village of Mendham and the subject remained a strong component of his visual vocabulary thoughout his career. In later years, Munnings' gypsy compositions came to epitomise a way of life that was increasingly under threat, and which the artist strove to record.
The yellow gorse visible in the background of Gypsy Camp suggests that it was painted during the artist's summer painting expedition. The gypsy children visible on the right of the composition, sit quietly, unaffected by Munnings' keen eye. It is tempting to connect the figures to a family of gypsies called Gray who modelled for the artist on many occasions.
The present composition prominently features a skewbald pony, almost certainly one of the two skewbalds which Munnings details in his anecdotal autobiography; 'There was in that town of Bungay a dealer in antiques named Watts. He owned a small succession of shops where he stored and sold anything from antiques to bedding, old iron and earthenware. In a small end room he cut hair. On this occasion he cut my hair, and I bought the walnut bureau with Willaim Palleday's name in the middle small drawer. He delivered the bureau. The little horse he drove was a skewbald. When passing the Red Lion, he saw me at work, left his cart and came into the meadow. Being as good a dealer in horses as he was a cutter of hair, he was soon offering me the skewbald. My indulgence in Red Lion beer, his chatty talk and beady eyes were, no doubt, the cause of the deal which I made with him. The sun shone. We all drank draught ale. Charlotte [Gray] came back from washing in the backyard of the Lion and joined in. Watts wanted ten pounds for the horse. In a weak moment I offered him ten pounds for the horse and the bureau, and he took it.
Fred Gray [Charlotte Gray's son] went and fetched the horse the next day, bearing a cheque I could ill afford, but as soon as I saw it out in a field with Gray's ponies I knew it would bring me luck.
That little horse was an inspiration to me, if ever I had one. He became a new light in my life, a tyrant I could not resist'. Munnings continues, 'I dealt with him for another skewbald, a warrior of a pony; a rich dark brown-and-white creation, and the most villainous. He frightened us all one day, screaming with rage ... and kicking. He broke the shafts of a cart in ten seconds ... But what a model! Sleek and handsome. Perhaps too sleek to be picturesque. I used him a lot, and rode him at a canter through every parish in the neighbourhood. He condescended to carry a man, but absolutely refused to pull a cart' (An Artist's life, Bungay, 1950, pp. 166-68).