In his autobiography Munnings recalls the commission for The Bramham Moor hounds: 'Lord Harewood had asked me to paint the Bramham Moor Hounds. My picture was of the pack passing by ... The canvas, sixty by forty inches, was kept at the kennels; I began and finished the picture there. Short, the huntsman, a character, took an interest in his own portrait. Standing behind me one morning, he said: “Look here Sir” - taking off his velvet cap – “I don't have none of that nonsense” – pointing to the plain straight bow at the back. Having painted Gulliver, who wore a kind of bow with drooping ends, I had, without thinking, done the same to Short's cap. Not approving of that style, he rebuked me, and asked me to put it right. “Well”, said I, “what about your horse? Don't you think I have made it rather like a National winner? The grey you have been sitting on is not such a horse as the one in the picture.” “Oh!” said Short, “please don't alter him. I've never been on such a horse in my life, and I'd like to go down to posterity well-mounted.” (A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, p. 225).
From left to right are George Gulliver, Whipper-in, on Boston, Ted Short, Huntsman, on Compton, and Will Beecham, Second Whipper-in, on Dan. The painting was commissioned by Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood who, in 1921, had become joint Master of the Bramham Moor Foxhounds with Lieut.-Col. George Lane-Fox, later Lord Bingley; in the following year he married H.R.H. The Princess Royal, daughter of King George V. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1928. Munnings had been elected a full member of the Academy on Derby Day in 1925.
The landscape behind the huntsmen includes the prominent feature of Almscliff Crag and was developed from the sketches Munnings painted near the house of Major Eric Fawkes, a descendant of Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, a major patron of Joseph Mallord William Turner. Turner, like Munnings, had been working for the Lascelles family who had introduced him to Walter Fawkes. ‘Lord Harewood motored me over to Major Eric Fawkes of Ormskirk Hall so that I could see the country for the background…Major Fawkes – now dead – was the possessor of pictures by Turner, many of which the artist had painted there.’ (Munnings, op. cit., p. 226).
A great hunting enthusiast himself, Munnings has created a vivid sense of movement as the horses and a sea of hounds cross the canvas, their fluidity in the foreground contrasting with the stillness of the hills beyond. Developing a traditional and static format of huntsmen riding to hounds, Munnings has transformed his composition into one filled with animation and spontaneity. His mastery of equine and canine anatomy emphasises the strength of the horses and the agility of the foxhounds as they weave between the horses’ legs. The bold scarlet of the huntsmen’s coats stands proud against the soft blues and greens of the Yorkshire landscape. Commenting on Munnings’ sporting paintings in 1944, Solomon Kaines Smith, Keeper at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, said ‘Foremost, yes, they are sporting pictures, so true, so vivid that they conjure up the very sounds and scents, the literal atmosphere of sport….the creak of a saddle, the sharp smell of brand-new leather, the warm rippling life inside a satin-smooth coat, all these rush into one’s memory, with the clamour of many voices and the thud of hooves’ (S.C. Kaines Smith, ‘The New P.R.A., 1944, Sir Alfred J. Munnings’, The Studio, vol. 128, 1944, p. 45).
Several years after completing The Bramham Moor Hounds at Weeton Whin, Munnings was commissioned to paint a companion picture. H.R.H. the Princess Royal on 'Portumna' and the Earl of Harewood, Master of the Bramham Moor Hunt, on 'Tommy', which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1930. In the grand country house tradition, the picture depicted favourite horses and the familiar North Yorkshire landscape around Goldsborough Hall, the first Yorkshire family house for the couple after their marriage in 1922. Later that year, Munnings painted what he considered to be his best open-air portrait, H.R.H. the Princess Royal on her grey horse 'Portumna' (Royal Academy, 1931). He recalled ‘pleasant hours on a portrait of Princess Mary’, and ‘that the Princess ‘gave me sittings for the picture during the Craven meeting at Newmarket when I was a guest at Egerton house…The Princess rode the grey horse to the spot I had chosen and stood in the ride against a woodland background. The picture was begun and finished during the Meeting, in three sittings on three consecutive mornings…this, of the Princess Royal on the grey, is my best equestrian open-air portrait. No horse could have stood better – no sitter was more patient’’ (Munnings, op. cit., p. 224-5).
Munnings had begun painting members of the Royal family in 1920 with the widely-acclaimed portrait of The Prince of Wales on 'Forest Witch' (Royal Academy, 1921). A few years later Queen Mary commissioned The Ascot Procession crossing Windsor Park (Royal Academy, 1926), which depicted the royal family returning from the races, and in 1936 Munnings painted his only posthumous portrait, of the late King George V on his white Highland pony, ‘Jock’, in Sandringham Park.
Founded in 1740 the first Master of the Bramham Moor fox hunt was Mr George Fox Lane (subsequently changed to Lane Fox), later Lord Bingley, owner of Bramham Park. In 1739 the Lascelles family purchased the estate at Harewood, the house previously known as Gawthorpe Hall, and in 1788 Edward Lascelles, 1st Earl of Harewood, became the fifth Master of the Bramham, beginning a lasting link between Harewood and the hunt. The country stretched from Skipton in the West to Selby in the South and York in the East.
We are grateful to the Curatorial staff at The Munnings Art Museum for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.
This work will be included in Lorian Peralta-Ramos’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the works of Sir Alfred Munnings.