Munnings executed a few portraits in pencil, pastel or charcoal, but this is one of the first traceable formal oil portraits to date.
Charles Baxter Nurse was an artist friend from East Anglia. In this early portrait Munnings has placed his sitter in a classical pose, seated formally in a chair. With his striking moustache and nonchalant manner, Baxter Nurse smokes a pipe, his brown suit slightly at odds with his highly polished patent shoes. Surrounding him are paintings propped against the chair and wall. A similarly posed portrait, Portrait of Thomas Henry Towler Case, (Phillips London, 4 December 2001, lot 37) was painted in 1910.
Munnings studied life painting in the atelier Julian, in the rue du Dragon, Paris, during the early 1900s, and grew increasingly confident in handling the technical problems associated with the exercise. It is quite clear from the present work, completed shortly after his return from Paris, that Munnings had by then already mastered the art of portraying the human face. His love for the countryside and desire to always paint outdoors, however, influenced his decision to avoid a career of studio painting. By 1905 Munnings began the first of a lifetime of equestrian commissions; Mr Thomas Osborn Springfield, Huntsman to the Dunston Harriers, on his favourite hunter, Mangreen (Phillips London, 6 June 1995, lot 74.).
Painted in Norwich a few years earlier than the present work, circa 1901, Charles Baxter Nurse executed a portrait of Munnings, with Munnings himself completing the background (see S. Booth, Sir Alfred Munnings, London, 1978, illustrated opposite p. 9).