Munnings was an avid hunter and rode often with a number of packs, becoming close friends with the huntsmen. Whilst in Cornwall he hunted with the Western and painted a portrait of its Master, Willy Bolitho (William Edward Thomas Bolitho with the Western Hunt, private collection). Another of Munnings's favourites was the Devon and Somerset and the present work shows the huntsman Sydney Tucker crossing Withycombe ford. Ernest Bawden, the whip who succeeded Tucker as huntsman, is described by Munnings as, 'the great galloping huntsman' (A.J. Munnings, The Finish, Bungay, 1952, p. 102). A smaller variant of the present picture, depicting both Tucker and Bawden, was sold Sotheby's, London, 19 May 1982, lot 68.
The composition is distinctive in its freshness and spontaneity, in this atmospheric scene the huntsman is turned away from us, the horse just stepping through the water. The focus is not that of the traditional hunting scene, but on the rippling water. With dabs of bold purple/blue juxtaposed with browns he creates the swirling water of the ford and the splashes as the horse lifts its foot. Lively blobs of impasto in the water contrast with the flatly painted buildings in the background. Keen to capture every detail Munnings uses the end of his brush to scrape away the wet paint to depict the reins, rather than painting them in.
This work will be included in Lorian Peralta-Ramos's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Sir Alfred Munnings.