Bred in Ireland by Lt. Col. E.C. Shirley at the Ballykisteen Stud, Happy Laughter was a chestnut filly by Royal Charger out of Bray Melody by Coup de Lyon and foaled in 1950. She was purchased as a yearling for 3,500 gns by her trainer, Jack Jarvis (late Sir Jack Jarvis), for Hugh David Hamilton Wills of Hadrian Stud in Newmarket (late Sir David Wills). Her victories as a two-year-old included the Acorn Stakes at Epsom, the Soltykoff Stakes at Newmarket and the Stud Produce Stakes at Sandown. As a three-year-old, at odds of 10/1, she won the 1,000 Guineas by two lengths ridden by Manny Mercer and later the Coronation Stakes at Ascot, the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, all now Group One races. She won nine out of thirteen starts and was rated the best three-year-old filly of her year.
Munnings's practice of rendering multiple studies for a horse's portrait is evident in this work more so than most of his commissions. Often Munnings would work up various panels in order to get to know the creature before starting on the finished painting, maintaining the same pose but with subtle changes. In this picture, Munnings not only executed two profile poses to best capture the points of confirmation but also a front, hind and two three-quarter views as well. In the profile views, Munnings experimented with the sun's highlights on the horse's coat, belying his unwavering practice of painting en plein air. The vignette of the head was rendered with a portraitist's keen analytical eye for revealing the character of the subject. Happy Laughter is poised and alert with a soft gentle eye indicative of a pleasant disposition. The hind view perhaps was done to gauge the depth and strength of the hind quarters, the area indicative of the mare's racing success. The front view painted with an economy of brushstrokes illustrates Munnings as a true master of the horse, as very few artists can convincingly capture that angle. In each of the studies the artist uses few, but precise, strokes of his brush. It has been said of Munnings that the modelling of his horses is delicate without being a cold study of anatomy.
Munnings has captured the easy grace and elegance of a finely bred thoroughbred athlete. He obviously liked the horse as he later sketched her from memory on a menu in the collection of the Munnings Museum at Castle House, Dedham which was exhibited at Wildenstein, New York, 1983, no. 117.
The present work will be included in the catalogue raisonné of Sir Alfred Munnings being prepared by Lorian Peralta-Ramos.