The Huntsman is an exceptionally fine and powerful example of what became one of Munnings' favorite themes in later years. This composition, a single central hunstman in the foreground either in cover or on a hillside against the open sky appeared in his oeuvre from around 1907 when he executed A Flash of Scarlet (Christie's, London, 21 May 2004, lot 71) which was exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Another example is Foxhunter Clearing a Hedge (Private Collection) illustrated Wildenstein, 1983, no. 22. Munnings has described the heart-in-mouth exhilaration and appeal that is in the heart of every hunting enthusiast. It has been said that hunting comprises the inner confrontation of the powers of fate and adventure. Here Munnings has articulated that moment of freedom, poised in mid-air when one has realized the success of being one with your mount in perfect cadence.
In other experiments with the theme, Munnings alters the moment of take-off and landing sometime struggling with the jump, sometimes jumping with ease. Munnings was an eager rider but not always so successful which he himself admits to in his memoirs which makes this work illustrative of how he too would like to have ridden a perfect fence.
The present work was painted circa 1911-13 when Munnings moved form his native Suffolk to Cornwall: 'Living in Cornwall, I had a strong desire to paint a Norfolk hunting incident such as I had seen again and again in that country. The huntsman, silhouetted against the sky, is lying back as the horse clears the rough, overgrown fence and ditch, to land well over on the other side.' (A.J. Munnings, An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, p. 273).
The mare in the present work is probably Rebecca, the dark brown mare, fifteen hands three inches high, which Munnings had bought from his friend the Norwich horse dealer, Richard Bullard. The purchase of the horse was to be the beginning of Munnings' life-long obsession with hunting, 'Some weeks later I called on Dick Bullard to see his horses. He lived in a small house adjoining a small stableyard. Horses were lodged in every corner, and it was plain to see Bullard was no millionaire...It was here, eventually, that I bought the mare. Thirty-five guineas was a large sum to me. However, after much hesitation and calling again to ride the animal and obtaining a veterinary's certificate, I finally paid the sum, and the mare was mine. A more willing or sounder creature never lived. I wonder I never rode the animal off her legs. There were days when I lived on her back... During the last winter at Mendham I cautiously began to appear at meets of Lord Stradbroke's Harriers. These hunted the most rural arable district in East Anglia: heavy land, deep ditches, thick fences, small farms and small fields...Thus began a phase which I did not attempt to resist - the vain glories of the chase.' (op. cit., pp. 183-184).
A watercolor version of the present work, also titled The Huntsman, is illustrated in L. Lindsay, A.J. Munnings, R.A. Pictures of Horses and English Life, London, 1939, no. 21, p. 51. Lindsay notes, 'At this time he painted many hunting subjects; they were so different in conception and execution from any predecessor ("The Huntsman" has still its imitators), so truly the work of a painter who also knew most things about riding and horses, that they conquered at once the strangely disparate worlds of art and sport.' (op. cit., p. 9).
This work will be included in Lorian Peralta-Ramos's forthcoming catalogue raisonée of the works of Sir Alfred Munnings.