Although the name of the lad is lost to us, the mare he holds is not. Foaled in 1914, Diadem won 16 races between 1916-1919, including the 1,000 Guineas in 1917 with F. Rickeby up, the Rous Memorial Stakes, the July Cup at Newmarket, the Molyneaux Plate at Liverpool and the Town Moor Plate at Doncaster. She was trained by the renowned Newmarket trainer, the Hon. George Lambton.
Munnings was commissioned by Lord d'Abernon to paint his mare at Lambton's yard at Newmarket. 'His stable yard - its atmosphere was right for an artist, and suited my taste. There were large paddocks nearby where a man painting a horse could get out of people's way. One of my earliest racehorse models was the famous Diadem' (see A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, p. 266).
Although the final painting was never carried out, Munnings completed several studies of Diadem (Walter M. Jeffords Sale, Sotheby's, New York, 28 October 2004, lot 178), another one of Diadem at stud (Wildenstein Exhibition, 1983, no. 33) and the present work of the stable lad who took care of Diadem. At the time Munnings was staying at the Rutland Arms and painting a number of different horses in various training yards 'working in the English tradition of horse portrait' (ibid. p. 258). The composition of the planned picture of Diadem was a profile view of the mare with the lad standing by her head. Munnings was obviously pleased with this sketch of the lad as he chose it to be included in both editions of his book Pictures of Horses and English Life.
Many of Munnings's studies of stable lads or second horsemen are sensitive renderings of character and because Munnings was an avid horseman himself, he could detail the nuances of the men's activity. In the present work one can feel the subtle tension in the lad's raised arms and his firm stance. His mouth is slightly opened perhaps speaking calming words to get the mare to stand correctly.
This work will be included in the catalogue raisonné of Sir Alfred Munnings being prepared by Lorian Peralta-Ramos.